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.

5 Best Values for Your Home Improvement Dollar

If you’re considering having some remodeling done, it pays to know what will add the most value to your house. Here are some of the best ways to spend your hard-earned home improvement dollars.

Install a Steel Door Replacing an existing wooden or fiberglass front door with a steel entry door is the number one project in Remodeling Magazine’s 2014 Cost vs. Value Report. Is it any wonder? It adds 96.6% of the cost of the job to the value of your home, improves security and increases energy efficiency. It also makes a strong first impression and adds curb appeal.

Update Your Kitchen The kitchen is considered the heart of every home. If yours is in need of an update, the changes are usually money well-spent. The average cost of a minor kitchen remodel nationwide is under $19,000, according to the Cost vs. Value report. By adding new cabinet doors, appliances, countertops, paint and fixtures, you can recoup about 83% of the cost in your home’s value, according to the same survey. If your kitchen is small, you can also consider opening up a wall or reconfiguring your counter space to make the room look bigger.

Create a New Bedroom If you’ve got an attic in your house, don’t let it go to waste storing old clothes and trunks full of memories. Converting your attic into an extra bedroom is another smart way to get a good bang for your renovating buck. Adding a bedroom without the expense of a new addition is a cost-effective way to enhance the value of any home, especially with an average cost recouped of just under 85%, according to Remodeling Magazine’s report.

Add a Deck Installing an outdoor deck adds value to any home because it gives you more living space to enjoy with family and friends. According to the Cost vs. Value report, composite decks add over $11,400 in resale value to your home and wooden decks add over $8,300. You can’t go wrong with either, because wooden decks recoup almost 87.4% of your cost compared to 74.3% for composites.

Redo the Bath Although it doesn’t pay off as much as a new kitchen, updating your bathroom by getting rid of that tired, old sink and dated green tile from the ’80s is a smart move for your home. On average, bathroom remodels returned 72.5% nationwide.

If you have the space and are considering adding a bathroom to your home, it’s probably a good idea. It can add as much as 20% to your home’s value, according to experts at the National Association of Home Builders.

Source: 2014 Cost vs. Value Report

– Adapted from AHS Home Matters Inside & Out June 2014 Newsletter

Window Costs: Expectation vs. Reality – From HomeAdvisor Newsletter

Aside from building an addition or completely remodeling your kitchen, replacing your windows is one of the most expensive home improvement projects you can tackle. However, understanding the cost-factors involved will help you get the most out of your budget.

Speaking of budget, many homeowners have unrealistic expectations about how much they should spend. Much of this can be partially attributed to exposure to ads touting low-priced deals as low at $189 per window. While it is possible to find a good deal, you should remember the maxim, “You get what you pay for.” Of course, that’s not to say you should go out and drop $3,000 per window either.

How much can you expect to pay? If the window frame is intact, most window experts say that in most instances you can expect to spend about $300 – $700 per window, including tear out, disposal and installation (for most standard window sizes). If you’re going with custom windows, that figure can quickly jump above $1000 per window. If you need to replace the window and frame you can expect to spend up to twice as much per window. According to HomeAdvisor’s Cost Guide, homeowners spent $5,209 on average to replace their windows.

So, what makes some windows more expensive than others and are they worth it?

As is the case with most products, higher quality equals higher price. The most expensive windows will likely be wood or fiberglass and feature triple glazed, argon or krypton gas filling and low-E coatings. And while it might be tempting to go with the least expensive windows possible, there are a few reasons you might not want to. For one, cheap windows generally don’t last as long as higher quality windows. In general, windows are built to last between 20 and 30 years. However, many homeowners have found themselves replacing inexpensive windows as soon as ten years after install. Second, inexpensive windows typically don’t look as good. When you consider how visible windows are and how much they affect the look of your home it’s wise to spend more to ensure you select windows that complement your home. Third, inexpensive windows won’t be as soundproof and energy-efficient. If you live near a busy street or in an environment prone to excessive heat or cold, it’d be worth it to invest in nicer windows with low U-factors (two or three).

That being said, just because you don’t want to go with the cheapest option doesn’t mean you should automatically go with the most expensive option, especially since the ROI will be incremental. Unless you have the budget to spare or like the aesthetics afforded by more expensive windows, save yourself the cash and go with mid-grade windows.

As for whether or not it’s worth it to get new windows…the answer depends on your situation. Does your home have old, drafty, single-pane windows that barely open or have rotted frames? Do you plan on staying in your home for the next ten years? Are you tired of dealing with condensation or high utility bills? If so, then yes, it’s probably worth it. For one, inoperable windows pose a safety hazard, especially if there’s a fire. Second, old, inefficient windows affect your utility bills, indoor air quality, and home value.  However, if you’re making the decision solely on energy savings, replacing windows that are otherwise functional doesn’t make much sense as the energy savings won’t be enough to justify the investment, even if you are upgrading from old, single-pane windows.

If you are ready to move forward with your window project, HomeAdvisor recommends getting quotes from at least three contractors. Our ProFinder tool will help you find a screened and rated pro in your area.


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8 Things You Should Never Do To Your Home

The list for things you should do to your home is endless—change furnace filter, clean gutters, leave a faucet running when it’s freezing out—but there are likewise many things you shouldn’t do. Of course, “set it on fire”, “paint it all black”, and “take off the roof” are gimmes, but we’ve come up with the top 8 items to be avoided that many people already do. Our apologies if you’ve already done one of these (or several).

1. Don’t do your own plumbing. If you already know how to do it, then this is just a list of the top 7 things you shouldn’t do. But even if you are an ambitious and skilled DIYer, just leave this one to the pros. It’s not so much that homeowners can’t do this or can’t learn, but most homeowners are not familiar with the safety requirements laid out in the Uniform Building Code (UBC). Plus, if you mess something up, water gets everywhere and might ruin a great many things. The risk versus reward of this does not play to your favor.

2. Don’t park in the yard. Now we know what you’re saying, anyone who cares enough about their home to read an article about things you shouldn’t do to them already knows not to do this. But you’d be surprised. Plus we just wanted to let you know that we didn’t miss this one.

3. Don’t remove walls between rooms without knowing if it is a load-bearing wall. Certainly, if you are working with a quality contractor, this professional will know which walls can come down and which can’t. However, if you are doing it yourself, you need to ask an engineer or a solid contractor.

4. Don’t do bump-outs. Bump-outs are when you move a wall out a few feet just for a little extra space (like a bay window, but to a greater degree). The reason not to do this is simple: the cost per square foot of this improvement is so high that you might as well opt for a more sizable addition at a much lower cost per square foot. Of course, if you like the texture of pocketed space, more power to you, but also more cost to you.

5. Don’t do your own electrical. Same as with #1, except that you have the added danger of getting electrocuted. Not a good idea.

6. Don’t remodel too much. Now you might have so much money that you just need to get rid of it, and if so, might we recommend a few charities that do some good work. However, you need to keep your remodeling within the general costs of your neighborhood. You’ve got to keep the money you put into your home realistic compared to the average price of houses that are similarly sized in your immediate area; otherwise it is extremely difficult to get the return on your investment.

7. Don’t be the person who doesn’t take care of your yard. Every street or every neighborhood has one, but don’t be that guy! You’ll get the whole neighborhood quietly hating you, making passive aggressive comments, and then one morning you wake up to find the whole block cleaning up your yard, as you stand on the porch in your robe with bed head. Bad yards make the neighborhood look bad and bring property values down, plus they’re an eyesore. If you’re really that busy, hire a lawn service or a kid from the block.

8. Never fool yourself into thinking your pets don’t stink. Because they do. This goes for you, too, small dog people. You might be used to the smell and the shedded hair, but it’s new to your guests. Pets, while lovable, get their smell on everything. If you have pets, you need to clean your carpets and furniture more often than usual (like every 6 months), make sure that you open the windows as often as the weather permits, and vacuum as often as time allows. If you are looking to sell, you might need to repaint inside to help with the odor.

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.

from ServiceMagic Newsletter

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10 Easy Upgrades to Add Style & Value to Your Home

Sometimes, it’s the little things that make the biggest difference in the value and appeal of your home. Whether you’re trying to sell your home of just spruce up the place, here are 10 easy ways to get started.

  1. Update hardware on cabinets and drawers
  2. Replace towels and rugs in the bathroom(s)
  3. Add overhead lighting or wall sconces to brighten rooms
  4. Declutter small spaces and closets with DIY storage kits
  5. Wash or power wash the exterior of your home (especially windows)
  6. Add area rugs to throw in a hint of color
  7. Hang a mirror in small rooms to give the illusion of more space
  8. A fresh coat of paint on walls and trim brighten any room
  9. Try a fresh new color on your front door for character
  10. Mow and mulch your lawn even in the cooler months

Make a plan. Set a budget. Get started!

from AHS “Inside & Out” Newsletter

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Painting Tips of the Pros

A successful do-it-yourself painting project takes more than the right tools and a steady hand. Follow these tips and tricks to make your walls look like they were painted by a pro.


Take your time. That’s what the professionals do. Remember that proper prepping and cleanup can take longer than the actual painting.

Use rubber-backed drop cloths to cover your floors. Old bed sheets and canvas cloths don’t give complete protection.

Store all hardware from outlets and switch plates in a baggie, and label with masking tape.

When filling cracks in the baseboard with caulk, cut the tip of the tube smaller than you think it should be. Too much caulk can make a mess.

Invest in high-quality woven roller covers. The cheap ones will leave fuzz on your wall and need to be replaced more frequently.

To make a perfectly straight line with tape, invest in a tape machine.

For an extra-professional touch, smooth down drywall — no matter what shape it’s in — with a drywall pole sander. If your walls are plaster, gently sand the necessary areas with a dry sanding sponge.

Don’t forgo primer. A good primer will seal stains, establish an even base and ensure that the topcoat goes on smoothly.


Don’t open your paint canwith a screwdriver, as it can damage the lid. Instead, use a lid opener. Many hardware stores will give these away for free when you purchase paint.

Always stir the paintwith a long wooden stick (usually available at the store for free) until all the sediment on the bottom has been mixed in.

Don’t submergea brush into the paint more than one-third of the way, or you’ll clog the base of the bristles, making clean up more difficult.

Apply a coat of paint to the backside of the light switch plate in the room. After it dries, jot down all the project details — date, paint brand, name, number of gallons required, number of coats applied and any other relevant information.

Clean up

Don’t waste time cleaningif you’re going to be painting the next day. Place rollers and brushes in Ziploc or plastic bags and store them in the fridge. Make sure you allow them to return to room temperature before reusing.

If the store didn’t do this for you, dab some paint on the lid to help you identify the color later. Write the name and number of the paint on the lid with a permanent marker.

Use a screwdriver wrapped in an old t-shirt or rag to wipe the rim of the paint can clean.

To avoid damaging the lid, don’t seal the can with a hammer. Use a rubber mallet instead.

Store cans upside down to create a tight seal around the lid. Because latex paints are water-based, keep them where they won’t freeze.

from AHS “Inside & Out” Newsletter

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Kitchen Remodeling on a Budget: Tips & Ideas

The kitchen is one of the most popular rooms in a home, so why not make yours really stand out? Whether you’re selling or simply want to upgrade, here are some simple tips and ideas to get you started without breaking the bank:

  1. Plan ahead and find patterns, colors and textures that you like from magazines, home improvement stores and the Internet.
  2. Set a budget! Know what upgrades will give you the most value for your money and do your best to stick with your budget.
  3. Make a plan and do one thing at a time, especially if you’re going to do it yourself.

So where should you start?

Repaint or stain your cabinet doors and add new hardware. This is one of the easiest and least expensive upgrades you can do that makes a big difference. If you need advice on what works best with the cabinets you have, take a door into your local home improvement store and ask for professional advice.

Kitchen Counter Tops
Counter tops can be expensive if you’re going for granite, but that’s not your only option. You can opt for concrete or granite overlay. Do your research to find what suits your budget and style best.

Kitchen Floors
Your choices are endless when it comes to updating your kitchen floors. From peel-and-stick tile to laminate wood flooring and travertine, the sky is the limit— but be mindful of your budget! Bring home samples of the flooring based on your style and budget before you make a final decision. Many real estate professionals agree that a kitchen remodel splurge should be saved for the countertops and not the floors, so keep this in mind when deciding. You want to make sure you get great value from any upgrades you do.

Saving Money on Kitchen Appliances
If your appliances are in good working order and match in color and style, save your budget for more beneficial upgrades. If your appliances look really dated or don’t match the new look of your kitchen, you may want to consider finding some great scratch and dent deals.

Did you know that appliances can be painted? A professional paint job can turn your white appliances into fresh, new-looking ones. You can also buy appliance-safe paint at your home improvement store and do it yourself.

Kitchen Lightening
Installing modern lighting is amazingly simple if your kitchen is already wired for overhead lighting. A new chandelier can make a big difference, and you can find options for less than $150! To make an even bigger impact, be sure to install a dimmer switch. You’ll be surprised what a difference a little “mood switch” can make.

The options are endless for remodeling your kitchen on a budget. The hardest part is deciding which upgrades will make the biggest difference on the smallest budget. Just be sure to do your research and to set realistic goals. And last, but not least, enjoy the project by making it your own.

from AHS “Inside and Out”

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Add Style & Value to Your Home with these 10 Easy & Quick Upgrades

Whether you are trying to sell your home or spruce it up, little things can make a big difference!

  1. Update hardware on cabinets and drawers
  2. Replace towels and rugs in the bathroom(s)
  3. Add overhead lighting or wall sconces to brighten rooms
  4. Declutter small spaces and closets with DIY storage kits
  5. Wash or power wash the exterior of your home (especially windows)
  6. Add area rugs to throw in a hint of color
  7. Hang a mirror in small rooms to give the illusion of more space
  8. A fresh coat of paint on walls and trim brighten any room
  9. Try a fresh new color on your front door for character
  10. Mow and mulch your lawn even in the cooler months

Make a plan – set a budget – get started!

Adapted from American Home Shield “Inside and Out” January 2011 issue

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