Home Improvement Tips to Help You Prepare for the Holidays

Americans are travelling in record numbers for the holidays. Gas prices may rise and fall, but nothing gets in the way of going “home for the holidays.”

Before your family crashes your pad, take a look around and consider what household projects you’d like to get done before the holiday hustle and bustle sets in. Here are a few popular renovation projects that can help you get more enjoyment out of your home before, during and after company.

For many families, the kitchen is the center of family life and entertaining. An appropriately sized center island with granite or marble surface makes a perfect location for guests to gather around, chat, sample hors d’oeuvres and sip wine. By adding or updating a center island, your contractor can also make space under that gorgeous new marble slab for a mini fridge, a wine cooler, refrigerated snack drawer and extra cabinet space. Above the center island you can add decorative task lighting or a suspend a chic gourmet pot rack to store pots and utensils, freeing up additional space in your cabinets where bulky skillets and pots may sit now. And have you thought about your backsplash lately? Eye-catching custom tilework can be the icing on the cake of home renovations.

If your house feels crowded around the holidays, you can create the illusion of more space by opening up your floor plan. Take down a wall, or leave half a wall to create a great breakfast bar or peninsula.  If there’s no room for a center island, this option can create the space for guests to still gather in or near the kitchen with the host. And after the holidays, it will make for a wonderful eat-in kitchen nook.  The degree of difficulty when it comes to opening up walls depends on many factors including whether the wall in question bears weight. An experienced contractor will make sure they take the safest and most cost efficient approach.

Where are your guests hanging out while the turkey is in the oven? The den or family room is one of the most heavily used rooms in the house, but is yours doing all it could to make you and your guests feel at home? Home theaters and media rooms are much more affordable today than they were a decade ago, and “big screen” TVs are no longer a luxury but the standard. Virtually any underutilized room – or even the garage – can be converted to a first-rate media room. The size of the room, existing wiring and location of windows will help determine how best to modify the room for entertaining and your contractor can install acoustic wall and ceiling treatments. To fully tailor the room to your family’s entertainment interests, consider custom cabinets with easily accessible space for audiovisual and gaming gear.

Want to keep the cooking noises in the kitchen and the screaming football fans in the media room? Consider pocket doors between rooms. They’re unobtrusive – virtually invisible when not in use – and do not require precious floor or wall space like traditional swinging doors.

And where do the kids play when your family comes over? A well-designed playroom can keep them out of sight (not that we don’t love kids!) and give them their own space for games and fun. Basement conversions are popular with families with young children. Constructed with colorful, durable, washable finishes, they can take the headache out of cleaning up after holidays and play dates.

If you’re an empty nester, maybe it’s time to convert an unused bedroom into a warm and inviting guest room for travelers. Bedroom remodeling is a great way to update your home. Remodeling a bedroom gives you an opportunity to choose new windows, design new closets, refinish hardwood floors and add custom molding.

This is also your opportunity to reallocate space. A guest suite is not complete without a private guest bathroom so it’s time to look at floor plans and see how you can shift the layout to create an en suite bath. Here’s an opportunity to add value to your home with a stylish guest bath featuring a walk-in glass shower and maybe even his-and-hers sinks. Your guests will appreciate the privacy and your family will appreciate not having to share their private quarters.

But the one thing to avoid: unfinished home improvement projects when the guests arrive for the holidays. It’s a good idea to view Fall as the beginning of your holiday prep time. And for some families, home improvement projects can be a practical and lasting holiday gift.  Often couples agree in advance to forego conventional gifts and “give each other” a major home improvement for the holidays.

Nothing beats being happily at home for the holidays in your own beautiful home.

Things to Consider When You’re Building a Deck

Deck, Construction, Planning
There are many structural and design elements to be considered when planning a deck.

Thinking of Building a Deck? Make Sure to Consider These Factors
by John Santos, Island Contracting

With the beautiful summer weather here, you can finally begin to enjoy your yard again. Building a deck is a great way to expand your living space and also add value to your home. But before you build this open-air extension, or hire a contractor to do so, make sure you’ve thought about exactly what you want or need. Thinking it through now will help to you to avoid the headaches and potential added expense of mid-project changes, or worse yet, dissatisfaction and regrets when the project is complete.

While your first thought may be how spacious you want the new deck to be, consider also how much of your yard will be taken up, and how much you would like to have left. The deck should be designed in a style that is consistent with the lines and overall feel of the home so that it blends seamlessly.

Practical considerations begin with the door from the home to the deck: are you using an existing door? Adding sliders? From which room? And stairs to the yard: a standard stair with railing, wide and deep steps, or levels that gradually approach ground level? And consider the style of the railing and spindles, which may be required by Town building code if the deck is above a specified elevation.

There are many options for embellishing your deck, including built-in benches, planters, storage, lighting and electric outlets. Consider which of these are important to you and make sure they’re included in the plan for pricing lumber and labor. And unless you’re planning your deck as part of a new construction, you likely already have landscaping in place. Take inventory of your trees and shrubs and what will stay and what will go to make room for the deck. Think about nearby trees and how much sun or shade your deck will get.

And you have a choice of many materials available today for the construction of decks. Some people like the ease of traditional pressure-treated lumber which is infused with preservatives to improve its longevity. Many decks are still built this way, but weather-resistant woods such as redwood, cedar and cypress, which are naturally resistant to rot, decay and boring insects, are also popular. Some homeowners opt for exotic imported hardwoods, like teak, ipe (pronounced EE-pay) and mahogany. These pricier woods are handsome and durable but also very dense. This makes them expensive, heavy, and difficult to cut and drill, so if you choose one of these, your contractor will need to be experienced in working with these materials.

Very popular today are synthetic materials that look like wood but have many advantages over their natural counterparts. Composites, including Trex and TimberTech, are composed of a blend of wood fibers and recycled plastic. Plastic lumber, such as Azek Deck and Forever Deck, are made entirely of plastic. All these very low maintenance manmade materials are highly resistant to staining, decay and cracks and they will not splinter or warp.

An experienced contractor can help you think through all these factors and more. And a skilled, reputable contractor will ensure that your deck has appropriate footings, that it’s level and structurally sound, and complies with local building codes and regulations.

Do your homework before you Say Yes to the Deck!

When you’re ready to choose a contractor, remember to confirm that the company is licensed and insured. Ask if the owner will be onsite throughout the construction or if he or she has a project manager. Request a written contract that includes a clear description of the work to be done, the cost and payment terms, and a projection of how long the project will take. Make sure that the contractor will secure the appropriate permits from your local Building Department, that he will protect the shrubs and other plants that you plan to keep, and that there will be a thorough clean-up at the conclusion of the job. This preplanning will help pave the way to a successful, surprise-free experience as you plan a great new space for fun and relaxation on your new deck!

This article first appeared in the newspapers of Blank Slate Media.  

Photo Gallery: Residential Interiors

How to Choose a Contractor

Looking to Hire a Contractor? Make Sure to Ask These Questions First

by John Santos, Island Contracting

Is it time to update your kitchen? Or maybe you’re thinking of a beautiful princess tub in a gorgeous marble bathroom. But who is going to do the work? How do you choose the best contractor for the job?Many people enter into agreements with contractors they don’t know well and end up disappointed – or worse – when things don’t go as planned.Hiring a contractor is like hiring anyone else who is going to work in your home or for your business.

Renovation, Reconstruction
Historic home reconstructed by Island Contracting after a catastrophic fire.

You should plan to interview the contractors you are considering, and they should be prepared to answer all of your questions patiently and thoroughly. Here is a list of questions that can help you have the best possible experience with your home improvements.

Is the contractor licensed? Contractors in New York must be licensed by the counties in which they do work. In Nassau County, contractors are licensed by the Office of Consumer Affairs in Mineola. The licensing process ensures that the contractor’s identity and address have been verified, that the company is a properly registered business, and that the necessary insurance is in place – but ask them about their insurance anyway.

Is the contractor properly insured? Contractors should carry two types of insurance: liability insurance, which covers property damage and some injuries, and workers compensation, which provides coverage for the contractor’s employees in the event of on-the-job injury. Without these types of insurance, you could end up having to file a claim against your homeowner’s policy for any incidents that occur on your property and could even have to pay out pocket for what your homeowner’s policy doesn’t cover. Ask to see your contractor’s Certificate of Insurance.

If the contractor uses sub-contractors such as electricians and plumbers, make sure that those businesses are also properly insured, and that the homeowner is listed as additionally insured on the certificates of insurance.

What is the contractor’s process for paperwork and payment? This should include a written contract for you to review and sign, a clear description of the work to be done, the cost and payment terms, and a projection of how long the project will take.

What about permits? Ask if the contractor plans to secure the appropriate permits for the type of work you will have done. Experience working with the Building Department in your municipality – the Town of North Hempstead or Town of Oyster Bay – is helpful and proper permits are a must. If a contractor talks about bypassing or neglecting the permit process, run the other way! The costs will be far greater to you in the long run with increased fees, potential fines, and the challenging process of seeking retroactive permits when the time comes to sell your home.

How will the day-to-day operation of the job be handled? Will the contractor be on site to oversee the project? How and when will the contractor communicate with you regarding progress and possible issues that may arise? How many employees do they have? Will you be seeing the same team throughout the project? And if your contractor is using sub-contractors such as electricians and plumbers, be sure to ask if they have worked together before. And what is the cleanup going to be like on the job site – not just at the end of the project but daily. Will equipment be left on site, and if so, where?

Be sure to ask how long the contractor has been in business and what type of work they typically do. Companies that have been in business for longer, doing the type of work you need, have had the opportunity to develop experience in dealing with the variables and unforeseen circumstances that may arise. Ideally, they also have learned how be on time and on budget.

And to check on the claims of quality, reliability, and punctuality, don’t hesitate to

. Call two or more of their former customers and ask about their experience with the contractor.

And remember, there are scammers out there so be sure to listen to your gut and be suspicious of anyone who shows up at your door offering to do work with “leftover materials,” people who pressure you to make a quick decision, and bids that are unusually low. These people may be looking to take your deposit and disappear.

So ask these questions, and listen to the answers. It may be tempting to go with the lowest price, but in the long run, this could end up costing you far more than going with a reasonably priced, experienced, licensed and insured contractor who will deliver high quality work that will provide you with years of happy enjoyment of your newly customized home.

This article first appeared in Blank Slate Media newspapers on March 2, 2018.