Home Improvement


Do it yourself or call the pros?

Do-it-yourself (DIY) home improvement projects continue to be popular. After all, it can save money and be very satisfying. But not all projects should be DIY. There are a number of things to consider before picking up a tool belt.

Home improvement experts recommend that you ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I really have the skills and knowledge to take on this project? You may be able to install a light fixture, but that doesn’t mean you can put up drywall if you’ve never done it before.
  • Can I do a quality job? Some projects require more skill and experience than others. Make sure you feel confident in your ability to do a job you can be proud of. Poor quality work not only detracts from the look of a home, it can actually hurt the value.
  • Do I have the time to do this? Experts recommend that DIYers double the amount of time a project is supposed to take. Do you have that kind of time to invest?
  • Will I actually finish the project? Many homeowners start a project with great enthusiasm. But as time goes on and problems arise, the project gets overwhelming and often gets left unfinished.
  • Can I do this by myself? If your project calls for more than one person, do you have a ready assistant who has the time and the skills to help?
  • If the project requires permits, can I get them on my own? Some projects – or parts of projects – may require building permits. Call your local building authority to find out exactly what permits are required and how to get them. They can also tell you which aspects of the project require a licensed professional. 
  • Do I have the right tools? If not, can you borrow or rent them at a reasonable rate? Trying to make-do with the wrong tools will hurt the quality of your project, and could hurt you.
  • What’s the real cost of doing it myself? It’s about more than just the supplies on a project list. Take into consideration things like gloves, safety goggles, tools you don’t own and your time. You may also want to figure in the damage factor – what it costs to do things over or repair damage done in the process. Will it really save you money?
  • Is it safe for me to do this? Lack of knowledge, experience and the right safety equipment can raise the risk of injury. If your home is older, it might contain hazardous materials like asbestos or lead-based paint. You should always have a professional do that kind of removal work. 

Cosmetic changes such as painting, putting up wallpaper or paneling, and installing flooring are ideal DIY projects – if you can answer yes to most of these questions. But structural changes – foundation or system changes, major framing – are best left to the pros.

And if you answer no to most of these questions, call a professional. The money you spend on expert help will save you time, hassle, money and regret in the long run.

Courtesy of Family Features


Hidden danger
Carbon monoxide poisoning
By Marci Natale

It sneaks into our homes silently. It has no odor or color, but it’s toxic. Carbon monoxide is a gas released when fuel is burned. As long as the house is vented properly, there should be no problems, but in the winter months when people are cranking up the heat and have sealed off cold air, there can be problems. 

Dale Lingenfelter, chief of Niskayuna Fire District 1, said they respond to dozens of calls during the wintertime relating to carbon monoxide poisoning.

"I was in a home once where all the return air ducts, cold air ducts, were blocked and there was also an issue with the furnace. When we arrived, carbon monoxide levels were at 400-500 parts per million (ppm)." Typically levels should read zero.

In your home, carbon monoxide is found in a variety of things including: furnaces, wood stoves, gas stoves, space heaters, clothes dryers, charcoal grills, generators, vehicles and cigarette smoke. 

"When the winter season hits, you should generally have your furnace and all fuel burning appliances inspected and maintained." 

"If there’s internal damage to your heat chamber then carbon monoxide can escape through that chamber and instead of going up through the chimney, it will go through your house," said Lingenfelter.

In taking precautions to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, a wood stove is considered safer than gas fireplaces. 

"With a wood stove you would smell the resins and creosote in the wood. You can’t smell burned gas in the combustion process," said Carm DePalma of CR Gas Logs and Fireplaces in Voorheesville. 

"But, if people have their gas fireplaces inspected on a regular basis and check for any leakage, you’re pretty much good to go."

When carbon monoxide builds up in a house, it can quickly put residents’ and pets’ lives in danger. By breathing in the gas, oxygen is not being transported to the body’s cells. Since carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless, it’s difficult to know you’re being exposed to it. At low levels, symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can mimic the flu. You may also experience a headache, nausea and dizziness. 

Lingenfelter warned, "If you find yourself having these symptoms at home and not having them when you leave home, it could be an indicator, but the best way to know for sure is to have a carbon monoxide detector in the house."

Linda Dunn of Colonie thanks her brother for giving her a detector. "If my brother hadn’t given that to me, we all would have been dead." 

Two days before Thanksgiving in 2007, Dunn and her family were sleeping when she heard the detector go off. 

"I unplugged it and put it in a different place and it didn’t go off, so I went back to bed. Ten minutes later it went off again, and I went and got my daughter." 

She called 911 and was told to get out of the house right away. "We had a hard time waking my sister up. The fire department had to give her oxygen." 

As a result, her sister was in the hospital for a week as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning. Dunn had to get a new furnace and checks her CO detector everyday to make sure it’s working. 

Another way to reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning is by purchasing an EdenPure heater. The portable heaters contain a quartz infrared heating system that never reaches a temperature hot enough to start a fire. Traditional heating sources remove oxygen from a room which can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning, but the EdenPure does not. 

Mary Muckle, owner of Rehm-Brandt’s Design in Bennington, VT, sells this brand of heater in her store and has eight in her house. 

"My furnace has been dead for two years," she said. "EdenPure is a must in your home if you want to save money and avoid any hazards, like carbon monoxide poisoning." 

Plumbers also recommend that any fuel-burning appliance in the home is well-vented. Randy Rowe, of Farrell Brother’s in Menands, pointed out that newer heating systems and hot water heaters have safety switches which detect backflow and will shut down the unit immediately. He recommends that older units without the safety switches are inspected and maintained regularly. 

"In the winter months, many of the outside vents get covered with snow, so it’s a good idea to walk around the house and make sure the snow is not blocking the vents," said Rowe. 

Whether its furnace maintenance, a carbon monoxide detector or an EdenPure heater, fire officials recommend you take precautions, because carbon monoxide poisoning is a deadly concern this time of year. The Centers for Disease Controls (CDC) has provided a list of tips to stay safe this winter season: 

  • Do have your heating system, water heater and any other gas, oil, or coal burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year. 
  • Do install a battery-operated CO detector in your home and check or replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall. If the detector sounds, leave your home immediately and call 911. 
  • Do seek prompt medical attention if you suspect CO poisoning and are feeling dizzy, light-headed or nauseous. 
  • Don’t use a generator, charcoal grill, camp stove or other gasoline or charcoal-burning device inside your home, basement or garage or near a window. 
  • Don’t run a car or truck inside a garage attached to your house, even if you leave the door open. 
  • Don’t burn anything in a stove or fireplace that isn’t vented. 
  • Don’t heat your house with a gas oven.


Succeeding in the age of the big box store
The recently opened Pfeil’s Hardware in Troy faring well despite the economy and competition

By Mary Beth Galarneau

It takes incredible risk and a leap of faith to decide to open a business in the middle of a recession. But, husband and wife team Deane and Jeff Pfeil took that leap when they opened their hardware store, Pfeil Hardware, in Troy this past September. And, so far…it’s paid off.

The couple has been a fixture in the Capital Region real estate scene since the late 1980s, when they founded Pfeil & Company, a business focused on retail leasing, commercial and multi-family development, construction consultation and, most notably, the adaptive reuse of historic buildings. Two examples of their commitment to the reuse of historic buildings can be found in Troy, where the couple has become pioneers of sorts, purchasing and successfully converting two historic buildings into luxury apartments. The launch of Powers Park Lofts in Lansingburgh in 2007 marked the first high-end loft apartments located in a former textile factory in the Capital Region.

Most recently, the couple rehabbed the former Stanley’s Department store at the corner of State and Third in downtown Troy. Built in 1903, the vacant building, renamed The Conservatory, houses 19 luxury apartments. Some amenities include washers/dryers, gas fireplaces, gourmet kitchens, high-speed Internet and cable services. Something else tenants can enjoy is the convenience of having a retail store on the first level. Or, to be more specific, a hardware store. 

The Pfeil’s originally had been trying to lease the space currently housing the hardware store, but weren’t happy with the prospects coming in. "We wanted to put in a quality, sustainable retail store that would really work and fill a need in downtown Troy," said Deane.

Upon the closing of nearby Trojan Hardware on Congress Street in 2009 – an institution in the city for 94 years – the couple sensed a need for a hardware store, especially since they found themselves driving to Latham to shop at the big box stores every time they needed something.

"From our standpoint, a hardware store was a great niche to fill," Deane said of their 8,700 sq. ft. store. "It’s a useful store, and has things people need."

Unlike some hardware stores, the couple decided to concentrate on the housewares stock – things like wine glasses, place mats, Caldrea cleaning products – which not only are appealing for their upstairs tenants, but convenient for those around the city who don’t want to travel far for these items. As Deane said, "we wanted the people in downtown Troy to come here to get what they needed." In other words, why travel across the river for what you can find in your own backyard? To add to its appeal, the store also features a small gift department carrying hostess gifts under $50. 

But, despite the feminine touches, the store doesn’t forsake its’ hardware store feel. It carries a line of Benjamin Moore paints, including the new green line of paints, and they have an extensive plumbing and heating section, which they have been steadily adding to because, as Deane observes, "[Troy] is an old city with lots of old pipes and systems breaking all the time." 

The store attracts a wide variety of people, from residents, contractors, and plumbers to landlords and even RPI students. In fact, to take advantage of the student market, the store specifically stocks materials an engineering student would need, such as bass and balsa woods, foam core boards, metal rods, tubes, sheets, dowel rods and electronic fuses. 

But the Pfeil’s would be the first to admit that they don’t do it alone. In their employ is a staff of eight, including a manager who has 25 years experience managing hardware stores. And, according to Deane, the manager is still teaching them things about hardware. 

"He lives and breathes hardware," she said. "He [the manager]knows every item in the store and how to use them." That kind of expertise comes in especially handy when a customer comes into the store asking for an item that he can’t readily identify except by gesturing to some nondescript thing he has clutched in his hand.

To keep up with the big box competitors, the Pfeil’s keep their prices competitive, offer great customer service and promote their wares as much as possible.

"We’re still tinkering with price points," she said, adding that while they usually follow the pricing of their competitors, they can often offer better deals than the big stores.

Luckily for the Pfeil’s, industry research shows that hardware stores actually fare pretty well during a recession, since most people are doing repairs themselves.

"That’s not to say they haven’t gone down a little, but the good ones withstood this quite well," said Deane. 

The Pfeil’s are proof that you can still succeed, even during these tough economic times. 

"We’re very pleased. We have a nice, clearly defined market in downtown Troy," said Deane. "Bit by bit people are finding us and I hope they’re pleasantly surprised."

Pfeil Hardware is located at 63 Third Street, the corner of State and Third in downtown Troy. For more information visit www.pfeilhardware.com.


Dramatically update your kitchen in six hours or less with six projects

With the amount of time you spend in your kitchen, why settle for out-of-date features and decor – especially since it is easy to give your kitchen a 180-degree makeover? Try these six simple projects, and in no time at all you’ll have a kitchen where you will want to spend more time. 

Home sweet kitchen
One of the easiest ways to make your kitchen feel warm and inviting is with updated lighting. And, luckily it can be an easy and quick project with the many conversion kits and lighting fixtures available today. Start by swapping any cold and unstylish fluorescent tube lighting with more decorative chandeliers or flush-mount lighting to flood your kitchen with ambient light. Next, fill in shadowy areas – or highlight objects you admire – with spot lights, such as recessed cans or dangling pendant lamps. Soon your kitchen – and your mood – will be glowing. 
Time: Two to six hours depending on the number of fixtures.

Update your sink with an eco-friendly faucet 
When it comes to your kitchen faucet, you may think – it’s not broke, why fix it? But as a workhorse and focal point of your kitchen, that shouldn’t be the case. Instead, update your faucet with a functional, stylish and environmentally friendly model. Available at Lowe’s, options such as Anabelle or Dorsey Eco-Performance kitchen faucets from Moen offer pullout/pulldown functionality with three unique settings – eco-performance stream or spray for tasks like washing dishes that require a constant, yet low-water flow, or a full-flow option when filling a pot or pitcher. This simple kitchen update can yield up to a 32 percent water savings – while also adding exquisite styling in to your kitchen. For more information about the Anabelle or Dorsey Eco-Performance faucets from Moen, visit moen.com or call (800) BUY-MOEN (800.289.6636).
Time: Ninety minutes.

Shortage of storage
With so many gadgets, appliances and food, kitchen storage can quickly become sparse. Start by organizing your current storage, purging any items that you haven’t used in years. Next, if you have room, add a kitchen island or additional cabinets to provide more storage and work room. Or, if space or cash is limited, search your local flea market or online at Craigslist.com for alternative options, like a vintage china cabinet or an antique overhead pot rack to house all your necessities and reduce clutter. 
Time: Six hours.

Add sass with a backsplash 
Tired of cleaning food or grease splashes from your kitchen walls? Spruce up drab or dirty-looking kitchen walls with a dynamic backsplash on walls near the sink or stove top. Hundreds of styles, textures and patterns can increase the sophistication in your kitchen and make it easier to clean. Plus, with step-by-step video instructions on how to apply the tiles available at Lowe’s Creative Ideas website it’s as easy as one, two, three. 
Time: Six hours.

Getting a new grip on cabinets 
Over time, cabinets made of wood or metal materials can deteriorate if they’re not properly maintained, making your kitchen look run-down or aged. Cleaning your cabinets with soap and water, then polishing, is the best way to make them look new again. To combat grime, fingerprints and other messy substances, apply cabinet cleaner such as Liquid Gold to a cloth and buff cabinets until they shine. Replacing old handles and hardware on your cabinets with a new stylish design and finish to match your new faucet will add the final polished look to your kitchen. 
Time: Two to five hours depending on the number of cabinets.

Advance the technology
Don’t limit your technology to your phone and your TV – transform your kitchen with innovative appliances. Whether it’s a microwave that fits in a drawer, a refrigerator with a TV, an oven that you can program or a customized wine and beverage cooler, adding new upscale appliances can take enjoyment in your kitchen to a whole new level. However, if these high-end appliances are out of your budget, upgrade your current appliances with new energy-efficient models in the latest finishes.
Time: Two hours shopping plus waiting on deliveries.

In no time at all you can easily turn your kitchen from drab to fab with just a few simple projects. 

Courtesy of ARA content


Wood is looking good this winter

With winter rapidly on its way, the government is asking you to think about cost-effective and environmentally responsible ways to heat your home. In fact, it is encouraging eco- and cost-conscious families to consider efficient wood stoves or inserts by offering a 30 percent tax credit, up to $1,500, for the purchase of a 75 percent efficient biomass-burning stove in 2009 and 2010.

With the government behind this national movement from foreign oil to renewable and domestically produced fuel, it’s time to consider the advantages both to the environment and to your wallet of owning a new, efficient wood-burning stove or insert.

"This tax credit comes at the perfect time – when people are trying to make their homes more energy efficient and less reliant on foreign oil, but are having difficulty making the transition due to the economy," said Bret Watson, president of leading cast iron wood-stove and insert maker, Jotul North America. "This credit essentially gives 30 percent off the purchase price of the stove or insert – up to $1,500 – making them much more approachable to everyone. Not only will taxpayers save money now through the tax credit, but they will save money on their heating bills in the years to come by buying an energy efficient wood stove or insert."

This tax credit makes it very easy for people to purchase new, efficient woods stoves or inserts. In fact, www.smartmoney.com recently calculated that by using a wood stove to heat a home, a homeowner could recoup the cost of the stove within two to three years with the tax credit.

Once a new wood stove is installed, homeowners will reap the cost-benefits of heating with wood for years to come. To help compare the cost of various home heating fuels, free fuel cost calculators are available online for consumers. Visitors can see how much they would save by using wood instead of oil, gas, coal or electric.

Homeowners save money with new clean burning wood stoves or inserts because of the efficacy of the stoves to heat homes with the least amount of fuel. New wood stoves or inserts have been built to optimize the heat of the wood. Older stoves let gases go up the chimney unburned and leave large amounts of ash. Gases and unburned particles can represent 60 percent of the potential heat of the wood. To avoid this, new, efficient stoves have designs that bring secondary air to the combustion chamber to burn gases and particles that would normally go up the chimney unburned. This is normally called clean burning technology and will increase the efficiency by almost 40 percent.

Cast iron has long been the preferred wood stove material. All the cast iron used by Jotul is recycled. It is extremely durable and long lasting. Also, it is excellent at heat radiating; heat is stored and distributed more evenly and for a considerably longer period than any other material.

Another way wood stoves help lower costs is by directing the heat where it is used most. According to the Hearth, Patio, and Barbecue Association, people regularly use less than 40 percent of their home. If a family uses a wood stove to warm the rooms used most, they can heat more efficiently by turning down their central thermostat, and save money – potentially 20 to 40 percent of their fuel bill.

In addition to the cost savings of wood stoves or inserts, the new efficient models are also much better for the environment. The fuel is renewable and supports American businesses, and the stoves release far fewer greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than ever before.

Many wood stove and insert dealers, such as the more than 300 authorized Jotul dealers across the U.S., will make it easy for taxpayers to receive the 30 percent credit on their new efficient wood stoves. They will provide a certification statement at the time of sale. This statement is all that is needed to receive the tax credit at tax time.

With the government encouraging everyone to make the move, now is the time to consider warming your home and office with energy efficient wood stoves or inserts.

Courtesy of ARA Content


Don’t let winter drafts get you down

Are you shivering and bundling up inside your house? If your thermostat is set at the desired temperature, your furnace runs continuously, your utility bills are ridiculously high, but you are still cold, it is probably because energy is escaping your house.

As it gets colder outside, here are some clues that will indicate if your home has air leaks:

  • You feel drafts or air moving even when all of your windows and doors are closed.
  • The floor directly in front of the sink feels colder than the rest of the floor.
  • There is a drastic temperature difference between levels in your house.
  • You find bugs in the same room over and over again.

Outside air typically enters the home where building materials meet and where wires and pipes penetrate through the walls. 

The EPA estimates that homeowners can typically save up to 20 percent of heating and cooling costs by air-sealing their homes and adding insulation in attics, floors over crawl spaces and accessible basement rim joists. Sealing and insulating these areas add up to an average of $200 worth of savings a year on energy costs. 

There are several easy and cost-effective ways to eliminate drafts.

  • Replace weather-stripping around doors, including the garage door.
  • Add extra insulation in your attic.
  • Insulate perimeter walls in your basement.
  • Insure that the chimney flue is closed.

Filling gaps and cracks with an insulating foam sealant is an easy, fast solution that anyone can undertake. Sealants such as Great Stuff form an airtight, water-resistant seal that cures rigid. The foam is sandable, paintable and can be trimmed with a utility knife afterwards. 

Some common and effective places to seal include the holes where the HVAC ductwork enters the living space from the basement and attic, the attic hatch frame, plumbing stacks and shafts, and pipe, wire and conduit penetrations.

For a full list of places to use foam sealant, visit www.greatstuff.dow.com/pdfs/checklist.pdf

Courtesy of Family Features






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