Best tips for smart home improvement

Best tips for smart home improvement

Consumer Reports News: May 10, 2012 04:38 PM

Memorial Day isn't the only big event in the month of May. The National Association of the Remodeling Industry has dubbed May National Home Improvement Month, so before you kick back and relax, take advantage of the nice weather to get your property in shape. To mark the occasion, and help you focus your energies in the right direction, we've compiled seven tips for successful home improvement.

Around the house
Inspect the deck. Especially if you'll be hosting the Memorial Day festivities, now is the time to give your deck a thorough inspection. Start by cleaning the surface with soapy water and a soft-bristled brush. Then check for splinters and popped nails; break off splinters, sand sharp edges, hammer nails, and tighten screws. Finally, check the structure for rotten boards, broken railings, and wobbly steps. If you discover extensive damage to the deck, consider a replacement. Consumer Reports decking reviews cover wood, composite, plastic, and aluminum. We also have extensive reviews of deck stains if the structure is sound but ready for a spruce up.

Given the front door a makeover. A fresh coat can transform your home's facade for the cost of a quart of paint. Choose a color that's appropriate to the architecture. Traditional homes calls for historically correct hues, say a red or black door on a white Colonial-style home. For a Federal-style brick building, earth tones, including brown and green, are the best complement, or you can pick up the neutral hue of the mortar. Check our exterior paint Ratings for the best products.

Button up the envelope. A leaky roof allows water to penetrate inside, where it can ruin insulation and drywall, and create opportunity for mold. On a sunny day, use binoculars to spot cracked, curled, or missing shingles, which are signs that the roof is near its end of life. Also check flashing around chimneys, skylights, and roof valleys, and the rubber boots around vets for cracks. See our roofing Ratings for replacement shingles that will stand the test of time. Siding is also susceptible to leaks, especially where it meets windows and doors. A $5 tube of caulk might save you thousands of dollars in structural repairs. If you live in a cold climate, check the siding under the roof eaves for water stains. See our siding Ratings for new materials.

In the kitchen
Don't rush the planning. This tip applies to all remodeling projects, but it's especially important with kitchens, given the complexity of the job. Plan on spending a couple months perusing magazines, meeting with pros, and visiting showrooms. Open a Pinterest account if you haven't already to keep a digital ideas file of inspiring images you find on websites like Houzz.com, with thousands of pictures of kitchens and other parts of the home.

Choose a surface that matches your lifestyle. If you decide to replace surfaces, remember that some materials make upkeep easier, important if you have kids at home or do a lot of cooking. Granite and quartz are top performers in our countertop Ratings, but granite needs periodic resealing. Don't rule out laminate, which is much better than stone at resisting impact. If you're heart set on marble, just know that it's going to stain and scratch over time unless you're obsessive about protecting it.

In the bathrooms

Focus on the shower. Roman tubs are giving way to spacious showers with his and her showerheads, body sprays, and even steam generators. You'll need a shower stall that measures at least 4-by-6-feet, larger than the 3-by-3-feet box that used to be standard. If you can take the stall up to 5-by-7-feet, you may also be able to do away with the door, since the showerhead(s) can be directed in a way that the spray doesn't reach beyond the shower area. This will eliminate a sizable expense, especially if you were planning on a frameless door, which can be pricey. Just don't jettison the tub if there aren't any other bathrooms in the house with one.

Improve water efficiency. Showerheads, toilets, and faucets have all become more water-efficient in recent years. Our tests have found many winners, including low-flow showerheads that deliver a satisfying pulse while meeting the flow rate of 2.5 gallons per minute. As for toilets, several WaterSense-qualified models that use just 1.28 gallons per flush make the recommended list of our latest toilet Ratings. Choosing a faucet with an aerator can reduce the water flow in your bathroom sink by 30 percent or more.

Daniel DiClerico


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