The Window Installation Process

When the installers come, no need to stress. With our guide, you already have a clear picture of what the window installation process will be like.

1. Prepare for Installation

The day before the installers arrive, confirm with the window company that installers are arriving the next day. Bypass the salesperson and speak directly to a scheduler. That evening, stick a Post-It note next to each window to be replaced, specifying the size and type of window to be installed. The next day, walk through the house with the foreman while installers unload the truck. Clarify which windows are being replaced. Lay out rules you wish the installers to observe, such as whether they may use your restrooms, etc.

2. Supervise Window Installation Process

As one set of installers removes windows, another group installs new windows. Make certain that they are using dropcloths under the windows, both inside and outside. Don’t hover over the workers but make sure you are within earshot if anyone has questions. By the end of the day, 8-10 windows have been installed, dropcloths are removed, and work areas swept. Every window either has an old window or new window–no open or boarded-up windows remain.

3. Confirm that Window Installation Has Been Done Right

On the second day, while the rest of the new windows are installed, another group shapes and installs aluminum cladding on the outside window trim. You touch bases with the foreman frequently because this is your last chance to make sure the job is done right.

How to Buy Replacement Windows

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick guide on how to buy replacement windows:

1. Locate Replacement Window Company and Prepare to Meet Salesperson

Search for dealers associated with the major window manufacturers; check the Yellow Pages for “Windows–Installation and Sales”; save junk mail ads. Set up a time for the salesperson to come by your house. Be firm and find a time perfect for you. You have control over the window buying process. They will conform to your schedule.

2. Negotiate with Window Company

Salesperson measures your windows and sits down with you for the pitch. Avoid wasting time on their gimmicks, props, and charts. Cut to the chase with our Buyer’s Checklist. Tell the salesperson you want a written estimate on the spot. Understand that this estimate might change slightly later in the process. The salesperson’s estimate only gives you a ballpark figure. If you like their offer, wait at least two weeks before calling them back. During this two week period, they probably will have called you several times. Contact other window companies during this time. Even if you like their offer, haggle for more. They may try to buy you off with insignificant options like free window grills. Or they may try a non-monetary incentive such as promising to advance your wait time for installation. No. Hold off for hard, cold cash. Propose shaving 5-10% off the price. Or propose two free windows. Be creative, but make sure it means that you pay less for your windows.

3. Sign Contract to Have Windows Replaced

Initial or sign the estimate sheets that have been revised to your liking. Send in check for a deposit on the windows. This is only a portion of the price, not the total price. Make certain the deposit is fully refundable if you back out. Next you meet the real estimator. Another estimator? Didn’t you already meet one? No, this estimator precisely measures the windows and evaluates the window framework to make sure it can accept the replacement window. Go through the window installation process. It will be 4-6 weeks minimum before your windows are ready to be installed. Schedule two days off work to supervise the process.

Hardwood, Engineered, and Laminate Floor Comparison

What is the difference between solid hardwood, engineered wood, and laminate flooring?  Here’s a guide to help you with the buying process:

Hardwood Engineered Wood Flooring Laminate Flooring
Real wood? Yes–all the way through. Yes–but only the top layer is the finish layer. No–none of it is wood.
Requires foam underlayment? No No Yes
Can be installed in basements No Yes Yes
Can be installed in bathrooms No, not recommended Yes Yes
Can be sanded Yes No No
Stain resistance Excellent–if wood is sealed; poor if wood is unsealed. Excellent–most engineered wood floor is sealed Excellent–flooring does not need sealing.
Insulating properties Excellent Fair Poor
Scratch and indent resistance (furniture, pets, kids, etc.) Fair Fair Excellent
Can be installed over radiant (heated) floor Yes–but not the best option Yes–recommended Yes–recommended
Ease of installation for typical homeowner Difficult–requires special tools Easy–provided you do not choose the nail-down installation option Very easy
Floating floor? No Yes and no–can be either nail-down or floating, depending on type of flooring chosen. Yes
Smoothes out irregularities in subfloor Yes–can bridge some small depressions and holes in sub-floor Yes–depending on thickness, can bridge some small depressions and holes in sub-floor No
Must be installed perpendicular to floor joists Yes Yes No–either perpendicular or parallel to joists.
Irregular and defective flooring materials a problem Yes No No

What is Laminate Flooring?

What is this mystery called laminate flooring?  Laminate flooring is confusing because it looks like wood but doesn’t behave like wood. What is it anyway?

Laminate Flooring is a Photograph of Wood Over Fiberboard

Laminate flooring looks amazingly like real wood. But it’s not. It’s a surface layer consists of one or more thin sheets of paper impregnated with resins (usually melamine). This surface layer is a photograph of wood grain, not real wood.

Under the wood-grain photograph is a base of high-density fiberboard. In other words, a wood-chip composite.

Laminate Flooring Snaps or Glues Together

Solid hardwood floors are nailed down to the sub-floor. Laminate flooring, on the other hand, snaps or glues together. Also, it is a floating floor.

Laminate Flooring Can Be Laid Over a Variety of Surfaces

It can be laid over most existing floors–ceramic tile, wood, or vinyl–except for carpet. And of course it can be installed on sub-floor.

Laminate Flooring is Thicker Than Vinyl Tile, Thinner Than Solid Wood

Laminate flooring is generally 1/2″ thick–compared to 3/4″ for solid wood and mere millimeters for vinyl tile.

Laminate Flooring FAQs

Find the answer to “What’s a floating floor?” and more of your basic questions about laminate flooring.

What’s the difference between snap-together and glue-together laminate flooring?

The most important difference is that glue-together laminate flooring forms a solid, impervious surface, so that moisture cannot penetrate through to the sensitive fiberboard substrate. Snap-together laminate flooring, though easy to install, has tiny seams between the boards through which moisture can penetrate.

What’s a floating floor?

A floor that is not attached to the surface on which it rests. The individual boards of a floating floor are attached to each other, either by snapping together or gluing together.

Does laminate flooring need to be sealed or waxed?

No. In fact, it cannot be sealed or waxed. Its surface is ready to walk on the minute you lay it down.

How do you clean laminate flooring?

Broom, vacuum, or damp mop with water. Be careful not to apply too much water to the surface; the mop head should be just barely damp. A quarter cup of vinegar in a 30 oz. spray bottle of water also works well. You can spot clean with Windex or 409. The good thing about laminate flooring is there are so many ways you can clean it without running the risk of damaging it.

Can I install laminate flooring in a bathroom or kitchen?

Yes. Laminate flooring will tolerate “topical moisture”: wet shoes and bath towels, normal dripping off when exiting a bath or shower, and small amounts of spilled liquids (quickly mopped up, though). Laminate flooring will not tolerate pooled water.

Installing Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring is so easy to install, you can lay 300 square feet in one weekend–and even that is a conservative estimate.

All laminate flooring is installed differently, so be sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions.

1. Ensure That Surface is Flat and Smooth

Unlike hardwood or engineered wood, laminate flooring will bridge only the tiniest gaps and irregularities. It is more of a cosmetic fix than a structural fix. Make sure that the surface on which you will install laminate flooring is nearly perfect.

2. Acclimatize Materials

Unwrap from protective covering and let laminate flooring acclimatize in the room where it is to be installed. The material must adjust to the humidity level of the room.

3. Cover Floor With Plastic

Lay down 6-mi plastic over entire floor surface as a vapor barrier.

4. Cover Plastic With Foam Underlayment

Foam underlayment recommended by the manufacturer goes on top of the plastic to absorb sound, bridge small gaps, and to make for an easier walking surface.

5. Run Laminate Flooring Planks Parallel to Longest Wall

Aesthetically, laminate flooring looks best when you run it parallel to the room’s longest wall. But it doesn’t have to go that way.

6. Lay Planks in Staggered Fashion

On the first row, begin with a full plank and continue row until you reach the wall. Cut board with a fine-toothed miter saw.

On the second row, start with a two-thirds-length plank and continue down the line.

On the third row, start with a one-third-length plank and continue down the line.

7. Glue or Snap Together

Depending on your laminate flooring material, you will either glue or snap the boards together.

8. Vary the Pattern

If you continue this same staggered pattern throughout the floor, you will call attention to the joints. So occasionally you will want to randomly stagger the boards so that the joints blend into the general appearance of the floor.

9. Cut Around Obstructions

Radiator pipes, cabinet corners, stairs–all are obstructions that you will need to cut around with a fine-toothed jigsaw blade.

Types of Insulation

Not all insulation is the same.  From traditional “blanket-type” fiberglass batting to sprayed-in foam, you have many insulation choices, and our guide here should help you make the best choice:

Type Insulation Materials Where Applicable Installation Method(s) Advantages
Blanket: batts and rolls Fiberglass
Mineral (rock or slag) wool
Plastic fibers
Natural fibers
Unfinished walls, including foundation walls, and floors and ceilings. Fitted between studs, joists, and beams. Do-it-yourself.
Suited for standard stud and joist spacing, which is relatively free from obstructions.
Concrete block insulation Foam beads or liquid foam:

  • Polystyrene
  • Polyisocyanurate or polyiso
  • Polyurethane

Vermiculite or perlite pellets

Unfinished walls, including foundation walls, for new construction or major renovations. Involves masonry skills. Autoclaved aerated concrete and autoclaved cellular concrete masonry units have 10 times the insulating value of conventional concrete.
Foam board or rigid foam Polystyrene
Polyisocyanurate or polyiso
Polyurethane
Unfinished walls, including foundation walls;
floors and ceilings;
unvented low-slope roofs.
Interior applications: must be covered with 1/2-inch gypsum board or other building-code approved material for fire safety.

Exterior applications: must be covered with weatherproof facing.

High insulating value for relatively little thickness.

Can block thermal short circuits when installed continuously over frames or joists.

Insulating concrete forms (ICFs) Foam boards or foam blocks Unfinished walls, including foundation walls, for new construction. Installed as part of the building structure. Insulation is literally built into the home’s walls, creating high thermal resistance.
Loose-fill Cellulose
Fiberglass
Mineral (rock or slag) wool
Enclosed existing wall or open new wall cavities;
unfinished attic floors;
hard-to-reach places.
Blown into place using special equipment; sometimes poured in. Good for adding insulation to existing finished areas, irregularly shaped areas, and around obstructions.
Reflective system Foil-faced kraft paper, plastic film, polyethylene bubbles, or cardboard Unfinished walls, ceilings, and floors. Foils, films, or papers: fitted between wood-frame studs, joists, and beams Do-it-yourself.

All suitable for framing at standard spacing. Bubble-form suitable if framing is irregular or if obstructions are present.

Most effective at preventing downward heat flow; however, effectiveness depends on spacing.

Rigid fibrous or fiber insulation Fiberglass
Mineral (rock or slag) wool
Ducts in unconditioned spaces and other places requiring insulation that can withstand high temperatures. HVAC contractors fabricate the insulation into ducts either at their shops or at the job sites. Can withstand high temperatures.
Sprayed foam and foamed-in-place Cementitious
Phenolic
Polyisocyanurate
Polyurethane
Enclosed existing wall or open new wall cavities;
unfinished attic floors.
Applied using small spray containers or in larger quantities as a pressure sprayed (foamed-in-place) product. Good for adding insulation to existing finished areas, irregularly shaped areas, and around obstructions.
Structural insulated panels (SIPs) Foam board or liquid foam insulation core
Straw core insulation
Unfinished walls, ceilings, floors, and roofs for new construction. Builders connect them together to construct a house. SIP-built houses provide superior and uniform insulation compared to more traditional construction methods; they also take less time to build.

–Content courtesy U.S. Department of Energy

Home Insulation R Values

Whether you live in Bangor, Maine, or Bakersfield, California, your home will be more comfortable and energy efficient with the right insulation. Insulation helps reduce the costs of heating and cooling your home. Here’s how: Heat travels. In the winter, heat flows out; in the summer, heats flow in.

Did you know that a properly insulated home reduces heat flow, using less energy in the winter for heating and less energy in the summer for cooling?

That could mean money in your pocket. To help you get the most for your insulation dollar, the Federal Trade Commission offers answers to some basic questions about home insulation.

Q. What’s the first thing I should look for when buying insulation?

Look for the “R-value.” “R” means resistance to heat flow. The higher the R-value, the greater the insulation power. The R-value must be disclosed for most insulation products. (Pipe and duct insulation are the exceptions, although duct wrap is covered.) For instance, if you buy loose-fill insulation with an R-value of 38 from Company A, it will have the same insulating power as loose-fill insulation with an R-value of 38 from Company B. You also can compare the R-value of one type of insulation to another, such as loose-fill to blanket.

Q. How do I know how much insulation R-value my home needs?

Several factors affect the R-value your home needs:

* Where you live — You’ll need a higher R-value if you live in the Northeast than if you live in Southern California.

* How your home is built — For example is it a single-level or multi-level structure? Do you have cathedral ceilings? Is there a basement or is your home built on a slab?

* How you heat and cool your home — Do you have a furnace, a central air conditioner, or a heat pump?

Q. Should I use the same R-value of insulation throughout my home?

It’s more efficient to use insulation with higher R-values in the attic and in rooms with cathedral ceilings than in wood frame walls and basements or crawl spaces with walls.

For help in determining what R-values your home needs, contact:

The Department of Energy’s (DOE) Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Network is a clearinghouse of energy-efficiency information. Find it online at www.eren.doe.gov; call toll-free, 1-800-DOE-EREC (1-800-363-3732) (TDD: 1-800-273-2957); or write to U.S. Department of Energy B EREC, PO Box 3048, Merrifield, VA 22116.

Your state energy office, local building department, or your gas or electric company. They can tell you how to conduct an energy audit to help detect waste and gauge the efficiency of your current heating system. Your utility company may offer free or low-cost energy audits, or you can conduct your own. DOE offers instructions at www.homeenergysaver.lbl.gov.

Your local home improvement store (or its website) may have information to help you calculate your insulation needs.

Q. How do I know what R-value I’m getting?

The FTC is responsible for enforcing the R-value Rule. The Rule ensures that you get information about the R-value of your insulation before you buy it, have it installed, or buy a new home. Manufacturers must label their packages of insulation; installers and retailers must provide fact sheets; and new home sellers must include this information in sales contracts.

Q. What should I do if I don’t get information about the R-value from the manufacturer, retailer, installer or new home seller?

Report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the online complaint form at ftc.gov; call toll-free: 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357); or write: Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Response Center, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580.

The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint or to get free information on consumer issues, visit www.ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.

–Content courtesy of Federal Trade Commission

How to Save on Remodeling Costs

Saving on remodeling costs means following a few simple guidelines.

Build Up or In, Rather Than Out

Additions involve costly foundation work. If your existing house will take a second story, this is cheaper than building outward (and taking up more of your yard). Also, look for ways to build within the existing house. Are there little-used rooms that you can convert to another use?

Take Advantage of Free Consulting Services

Plenty of people want to “help” you. It’s all a ploy, of course, to get you to buy their services or products. But we’re all adults; we understand the situation. Use those Home Depot or Lowe’s kitchen planner people. They’ll work up a kitchen plan for you, even if you never intent to use them. Have those siding contractors estimate how many “squares” of siding you need.

Use Cash

Avoid additional mortgages and especially avoid taking out high-interest personal loans. Nothing is cheaper than cash–no interest, no late penalties, no fees.

Reduce Need for Contractors

Contractors charge 15% to 25% on top of the remodeling costs. This is very simple math. While you can’t entirely avoid the need for contractors, try to reduce your need. For example, you may use a contractor to build your addition. That’s fine. But don’t add on other things that are easy enough for a non-contractor to hire out. Things like building that brick patio and landscaping don’t need to be rolled into the contractor’s costs.

Don’t Move Plumbing

Moving plumbing will run up your costs in a hurry. If moving the plumbing is absolutely essential, then by all means do it. But search your heart and decide if your life will be improved by having the kitchen sink six feet to the left of where it is now.

Use Existing Electrical System

If the electrical system works and can handle the load, there is no need to replace it. Instead of abandoning existing electrical work, consider running new wires and adding onto it.

Avoid Doubling Your Living Expenses

Living in the house while doing work obviously saves money. But you also need to consider your sanity. It’s hell living in a house that’s being worked on. Got any relatives you can sponge off of?

Use Structural Elements as Surface Finishes

This depends on your decorating style. But if you can use unfinished ceiling beams, existing wooden floors, interior brick walls “as is,” or with a little clean-up, you’ve saved a considerable amount of money.

Do Your Own Work

Your own labor costs will always be cheaper than those of the plumber or the electrician.

Look for the One-Guy Operations

Avoid the big operations with their overhead, advertising, unemployment taxes, and sales commissions. Go for the one- or two-guy operations. They’ll work with you. Make sure they are licensed, though.

Questions to Ask the Remodeling Contractor

Ask these initial questions before signing anything with the home improvement contractor or general contractor:

1. Are you licensed or registered in my state?

At the very least, the contractors should be licensed/registered in states where this is required. Also, the contractor should have a clear record.

2. Do you “sub out” or do you have your own employees?

There is no right answer. Generally, contractors arrange for sub-contractors to perform the work. After all, this is why they are called contractors. However, some contractors may have employees and perform their own work.

3. How long have you been in business?

There is no right answer. A new firm cannot be faulted for being new. However, it makes it that much harder for you to check up on references.

4. How many projects similar to mine have you finished in the past year?

The important words are “similar to mine.” If the contractor will be renovating your kitchen, you want to see other kitchen renovations at a similar price level.

5. Do you think I will need permits for this job?

The contractor may not be able to give you a definite answer until he gets further into the job. But he should be able to give you an educated guess at this point.

6. If permit are needed for this job, will you follow through the permit process all the way?

Contractors earn their commission by performing this service. However, you will have to pay the permit fees.

7. Will you or someone else be the “point person” for my job?

8. Can I see three references?

Rather than just looking at pictures in a portfolio, you will want to see the work in person and speak to the homeowner without the contractor being present.

9. Do you have worker’s compensation and liability insurance and can you provide me with copies of same?

10. How much down payment do you want?

You should not put down more than 10% down payment. Fees for permits may be additional.