Professional or Amateur? 5 Qualities of an Expert Contractor

Brandpoint  |  2016-03-17

(BPT) - Are you one of the more than 3 million people planning to renovate your kitchen or bathroom this year? Or perhaps you're adding on a room or finishing your basement. If you're going to hire a contractor for any home remodeling project, make sure you know the difference between a great contractor and an “OK” one. In other words, learn what separates a professional from an amateur.

A quick Google search on “remodeling disasters” or “renovation mistakes” returns an endless number of nightmare remodeling projects and scams, where the homeowner is left dealing with unfinished projects or unsafe conditions, and ultimately spends more money rectifying the issue.

When making such a significant investment, you want to make sure you're getting a reputable and dependable professional so your project doesn't become another horror story. It's important to do your research, read reviews and check references before you put your home in the hands of someone else.

So, now that you've narrowed down your list of potential contractors, how can you weed out the amateurs from the tried and true professionals?

Look for these qualities:

Focus:

  • Professional: Puts clients first and will work with you to make sure your goals are feasible and that the project can get done on time and on budget. Treats customers, their families and their homes with respect.

  • Amateur: Focuses on finishing the job as quickly as possible, with little regard for your family's personal needs and schedule.

Livability:

  • Professional: Well-equipped to deal with the No. 1 threat to livable remodeling - dirt and dust. Protects you and your family from annoying and potentially dangerous air particles by using the most effective tools and processes for dust elimination, such as the BuildClean Dust Control System.

  • Amateur: Doesn't have a proactive strategy to manage indoor air quality and jobsite dust. “Brushes it under the rug” without concern for your indoor air quality, your belongings and the short-term and long-term health of you and your family.

Ethical:

  • Professional: Proactively addresses challenges head-on, immediately notifying you of an unexpected issue.

  • Amateur: Ignores problems uncovered during the project in order to keep it moving. Leaves behind things like hidden mold, leaky pipes or structural issues, putting the health and safety of your family at risk.

Risk:

  • Professional: has a license, certifications and insurance. Obtains all necessary permits, protecting you against unsafe work and legal issues. Guarantees their work.

  • Amateur: Unaware of - or doesn't care about - building codes, required permits and health and safety regulations. Leaves you liable for any improper work, mistakes and in a potentially dangerous situation.

Value:

  • Professional: Communicates with you to establish an estimate and negotiate a fair contract and payment schedule.

  • Amateur: Underbids a project by thousands of dollars and is likely to cut corners to meet the budget or overwhelm you with costly change orders.

When beginning your remodeling projects this year, remember professional contractors will put your interests first. They will proactively address potential issues and discuss a livability strategy with you that includes timeline, logistics, dust control and safety. With an amateur, there are no guarantees, so you're putting yourself and your loved ones at unnecessary risk.

For more information on selecting a professional contractor, visit: livableremodeling.com.

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Don't Dumb Down Deer - They're Smarter than You Think! Outsmart Them and Protect Your Yard

Brandpoint  |  2016-03-17

 (BPT) - With 2015 breaking records as the warmest year ever in the U.S., you’ll soon be seeing an unhappy side-effect of the mild weather; more deer will be browsing your backyard when the weather gets warm.

Most of us have seen more acorns, a bumper crop in fact, that provided deer with an easily accessible, plentiful food source which helped them get through winter in good shape. They’re healthy and will be ready to birth plenty of fawns come spring. This season we’ll see deer populations rise in suburbia across the country.

Don’t discount deer’s intelligence, they’re smarter than you think; they actually possess a memory of negative experiences, learn from them and adapt their habits accordingly. Deer know they’re greatly exposed to danger due to hunters and predators in woodlands and have moved right to the edge of woodlands, in close proximity to suburban neighborhoods, where they’ve learned they’re safe. They’re also smart enough to know danger is not present or even threatening in suburbia and they will remember your bountiful backyard food sources, too. Once in your yard, you can count on deer damage to your trees, shrubs, gardens and landscapes that you’ve invested much time, money and effort in.

The damage to residential landscapes, crops and timber from deer foraging ranges around $1 billion annually. With a single deer capable of eating a ton and a half of vegetation per year, just one or two deer can cause significant damage.

Deer don’t have to devastate your yard this spring and summer, according to Scott C. Williams with the Department of Forestry and Horticulture at The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. “You can definitely use deer’s intelligence against them to trick them right out of your yard. Just as they learn where to find safe, reliable food sources, you can “train” deer to avoid any specific area.”

Negative conditioning works well to deter deer from your yard, but it’s important to choose a strategy that outsmarts them continuously. Scare tactics such as dogs barking, canned noise and scarecrows have limited effects, as deer quickly learn there’s no real harm associated with these “threats.” Fences also have limitations; deer can easily jump over any fence lower than 8 feet and few neighborhoods will approve a fence of that height.

“A product that combines scent and taste deterrents, will be most effective in keeping deer away from suburban landscapes,” Williams says. “Deer will remember the unpleasant smell and taste of your backyard’s food source and they’ll pass by your yard rather than eat something they’ve already been conditioned to learn will be distasteful.”

Bobbex Deer Repellent is such a product that combines scent and taste deterrents. Testing by the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station proved Bobbex is more effective than nine other commercial repellents (including coyote urine), scoring a 93 percent in protection, second only to a fence at 100 percent. The all-natural repellent blends six scents, including rotten eggs, garlic, fish, clove oil and vinegar (among other things) to mimic predator scents, classifying it as an effective fear repellent. It also tastes terrible to deer, but is actually good for plants because it contains elements high in nitrogen and phosphorus. The product dries clear, is harmless to humans and pets, won’t burn plants and its odor, after 24 hours, is undetectable to humans.

You can easily apply Bobbex with a simple trigger or pump spray, according to label directions, and school deer to pass you by. Best practice is to use the product throughout the entire year, since deer and their ability to devastate your yard, are never out of season. Continued use will ensure protection of plants and landscapes and constantly reinforce to the deer that your backyard doesn’t offer any good, tasty sustenance. Visit www.bobbex.com to learn more.

Although deer are smart enough to spot easy food sources, it is possible to humanely and effectively keep them out of your backyard all year. It’s a simple matter of using their smarts to outsmart them and convince them they’re better off looking elsewhere for food.

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Stack the Deck in Mother Nature's Favor with These Green Deck-Building Tips

Brandpoint  |  2016-02-25

Enjoy a clearer view of your garden with cable railing.

(BPT) - Communing with the bounty of nature in your own backyard is one of the many advantages of having a deck. Not only does it boost home value, a deck gives you a comfortable venue for enjoying the outdoors - and what could be more environmentally friendly than spending some time with Mother Nature? But is your deck really as "green" as it could be?

Some decks are simply greener than others by virtue of the materials used in their construction. If you'll be adding a new deck to your outdoor environment this year, or refurbishing or replacing an old one, keep these eco-friendly deck-building tips in mind:

Deck board options

Wood and composites are the two primary types of boarding used for decks.

Wood is a renewable resource; more trees can grow to replace the ones harvested for your deck boards, and when your deck's usable life ends, you can recycle the wood it was made of. However, pressure-treated lumber is not recyclable. While the preservatives it's treated with make pressure-treated lumber last longer than many types of untreated wood, it's less eco-friendly in the long run because it must be disposed of instead of reused. If you prefer a wood deck, look for naturally weather- and pest-resistant wood varieties like California red wood, western red cedar or ipe.

Composite boards can also be greener. Many are made from recycled materials such as reused plastic and reclaimed or recycled wood. Composites tend to be more long-lasting than wood, and require no special treatment like staining or sealing. Their longevity can make them a greener choice, but be aware composites can't be recycled.

Greener railings

Just as wood and composites are the primary materials for deck floors, they're also commonly used for railings. However, given the railing's exposure to the elements and its importance in the safety and beauty of a deck, it's worth exploring other green alternatives.

Stainless steel cable railing, like Ultra-tec(R) by The Cable Connection, not only provides unobscured views from your deck and a sleek, attractive look, it's also 100 percent recyclable. What's more, Ultra-tec(R) is made from recycled stainless steel, meaning fabrication requires less consumption of resources like fossil fuels, less consumption of minerals through mining, and a reduced environmental impact.

Greener railings can also save you some green; you can easily install stainless steel railing yourself on a new or existing wood or composite deck. To learn more, visit ultra-tec.com.

Maintenance

If you choose to construct your deck of composites - and add a stainless steel railing - it will require little maintenance. Stainless steel is inherently weather-resistant and will stay shiny and beautiful for years without you having to do anything to it.

If you opt to build your deck with wood, some types will require regular maintenance like sealing and staining. Rot- and pest-resistant woods may not need to be sealed, but will weather to a silver-gray color unless you stain them every year. Many stains contain a blend of agents meant to inhibit the growth of fungus or deter pest infestations, and may also contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Look for stains and sealers that rely on natural ingredients, such as hemp oil, beeswax, carnauba wax and water.

Icing on the cake

Of course, adding life to your deck is one of the greenest things you can do. It's easy to add built-in planters as you're constructing a new deck or retrofitting an existing one. Or, you can simply place flowers, vegetables and herbs in containers on the deck. Be sure to protect wood decks with a tray placed under containers to catch water runoff.

Lighting is also a great way to boost the visual appeal and usability of a deck. You can enjoy mood-making light that's also eco-friendly by using solar lights, rather than electrical ones, throughout your deck. A variety of solar deck lights are available online and in home improvement stores. You can even find solar-powered decorative post caps for deck railings.

Choosing greener deck options can help ensure you enjoy your outdoor environment throughout the year, and help preserve the environment for future generations.

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7 Steps to Allergy Relief with Spring Cleaning

Brandpoint  |  2016-02-18

(BPT) - Longing for allergy relief? To stop the endless cycle of sniffles, sneezes and wheezes, it’s time to ready your vacuum and rubber gloves. Spring cleaning helps eliminate allergens so you can relax, breathe easy and enjoy the season.

“People who suffer from allergies may not realize there’s a direct connection between cleaning your home and reducing allergy symptoms,” says allergist Bryan Martin, DO, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI.) “The more you can rid your home of dust mites, mold, cockroaches and pet dander, the easier you’ll breathe.”

ACAAI recommends seven spring cleaning steps to remove allergens in the home and avoid accidentally letting more in.

Step 1: To sleep, perchance to dream - and breathe.

Start in the bedroom where you spend eight to 10 hours a day. Dust mites can flourish during cold, dreary months, so wash your sheets and comforter regularly. Most mites die by drowning, but if you want to use hot water (which will kill slightly more mites) don’t use water that’s over 120 F because it can scald.

Remember to also wash decorative pillows. Finish by adding allergy-proof casings to the mattress, box spring and pillows. Keep pets out of the bedroom as their dander can cause symptoms to flare.

Step 2: Gaze out, but don’t open.

Window treatments are a magnet for dust and allergens. Pull them down and dry clean, or vacuum each thoroughly. Don’t forget to vacuum blinds and windowsills as well. Tempted to open the windows to let the spring breeze in? Don’t. Unwanted pollen can enter your home and spread everywhere.

Step 3: When the dust settles, wipe it off.

Suit up to win the war on dust by wearing protective gloves and a face mask so you don’t breathe in microscopic mold spores. Next, ditch cotton cloths and feather dusters that kick up allergens, and instead use microfiber cleaning cloths which trap and remove triggers. Wipe down all surfaces including picture frames, knickknacks, plant saucers and ceiling fans.

Step 4: Nature abhors a vacuum. You shouldn’t.

Move all furniture, and vacuum the dust and dander that collects underneath. Use a cyclonic vacuum, which spins dust and dirt away from the floor, or a vacuum with a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter. Additionally, clean vents and return registers to limit dust recirculating. Consider shampooing carpets to remove deeply embedded allergens.

Step 5: Scrub-a-dub the mold.

In bathrooms, basements and tiled spaces, scrub any visible mold and mildew from surfaces with bleach, or borax mixed with water, then dry completely. The key to reducing mold is moisture control, so use bathroom fans and clean any standing water immediately. You can also help ward off mold by keeping home humidity below 50 percent.

Step 6: Change is good - for filters.

Keep the air that circulates through your home’s ventilation system clean by using filters with a MERV rating of 11 or 12. Change the filter at the change of every season, or every three months. (Set a calendar reminder to remember). Additionally, change filters in HEPA appliances. This helps eliminate allergens, and prohibits mold growth.

Step 7: Get out! And about.

Check your home’s exterior for any concerns that may have emerged due to cold weather. Chipped paint, roof damage or cracked siding can lead to mold problems. Make repairs as necessary.

These seven spring cleaning steps may take a few weekends to complete, but they’ll help reduce allergens all season long. For more information, or to find an allergist in your area, visit AllergyAndAsthmaRelief.org.

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5 Ways to Improve Your Outdoor Space with Retaining Walls

Brandpoint  |  2016-02-17

(BPT) - When you picture a retaining wall, do you imagine it holding back dirt? That's the most common use for retaining walls - to address elevation changes and prevent erosion. But concrete segmental retaining wall (SRW) units are multi-purpose landscaping tools with many more uses.

Site planners, engineers, landscape architects, designers, developers and builders have long relied on SRWs to manage sloping properties, provide more usable space, or create stadium seating. Homeowners, too, have discovered retaining walls can be used to create functional outdoor features, says Scott Arnold, manager of Villa Landscapes in St. Paul, Minnesota.

"Because segmental retaining walls are both durable and beautiful, landscapers and homeowners can use them to create outdoor seating, raised patios and other features," says Arnold. "They are the perfect building block to create grill islands, outdoor kitchens and so much more."

Most SRWs are easy to install, which is an important consideration for both landscape professionals and do-it-yourselfers, Arnold said. With retaining wall systems, homeowners and landscapers can create freestanding walls, seat walls, columns, stairs, planters and other features without the need for special units.

Stunning seating

While commercial installers often use SRW units for amphitheater and stadium seating, retaining walls can also be used to create beautiful and durable outdoor seating on a smaller scale, from freestanding walls that double as seating, to two-tiered seat walls. VERSA-LOK SRWs can be used to easily create a curved "couch" seating area that works well as a solution around a patio and fire pit for fall evenings.

Ditch the deck

Raised patios built with retaining wall units are a low maintenance option to replace aging wooden decks that require continual maintenance. Villa Landscapes designed a raised deck replacement in Minnesota with SRWs from ground level to 42-inches tall to support a paving stone patio. Stairs also built with SRWs connect the patio to the home and yard.

The result was a beautiful, spacious and low-maintenance patio with the added advantage of a clear view of the backyard. Willow Creek Paving Stones pavers were used for the patio, surrounded with a contrasting course of river rock that serves as a visual and physical boundary as well as a space for potted plants.

Create curb appeal

Where the yard meets the driveway, retaining walls can be installed as a barrier to protect the lawn from damage caused by tire tracks, plowing or deicing. A tiered arrangement that addresses a slope in the yard adds space for plants and shrubs. Freestanding walls are often built along property lines on corner lots to prevent unwanted traffic from cutting across the yard.

Columns created using retaining wall units can be paired with any style home, from classic to contemporary, to add curb appeal. When the front entryway is freshened up with seat walls and other features, the space functions like an old-fashioned porch for visiting and other outdoor activities.

A place for plants

Tree rings and planters built with retaining wall units create a tidy solution around hard-to-maintain areas, such as shallow-rooted trees and other problem spots. Planters and tree rings can function as usable space for perennials, annuals, vegetables and herbs. SRWs such as VERSA-LOK can be used to create planter walls up to 4-feet tall without the need for geogrid reinforcement. VERSA-Green, a plantable wall system that mimics a hanging garden, provides a stunning living wall solution.

Build a backyard

A homeowner in Apple Valley, Minnesota, nicknamed her unmowable back yard "Billy Goat Hill" because there was no yard space and no safe way to access her garden and fire pit at the top. Plus, erosion was a continual problem.

Devine Design Landscapes of Rosemount, Minnesota, solved the problem by excavating for a small back yard and creating tiers of retaining walls with offset stairs, patio landings and seat walls. The result was a small, usable backyard space with safe access to the hilltop and ample planting space for perennials.

"With VERSA-LOK, I could use the same block to build the retaining walls, steps and seat walls," says Paul Devine, owner of Devine Design Landscapes. "The pinned system provides a high ratio of weight per square foot of wall face plus extreme flexibility in design. Back-locking lip walls are not as structurally sound as a pinned system, and hollow blocks do not provide the stability required for large tiered walls."

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10 Office Organization Tips to Boost Productivity

Brandpoint  |  2016-02-10

(BPT) - Empty boxes, piles of paper, pens strewn about - everyone is guilty of office disorganization. What most people don't realize is a messy, disheveled office space can actually dramatically reduce worker efficiency and productivity.

A staggering 98 percent of office workers say they'd be more productive at their jobs if their offices were more organized, according to a 2015 Post-it Brand Office Organization study surveying 1,000 full-time office workers. That means it's time to get organized and these 10 simple ideas will help you tidy up your work area and stay on-task for good.

Reduce and recycle
Go through drawers and get rid of paperwork and supplies you never use. Recycle paperwork and give unused supplies to coworkers or donate them to your community's schools. If you're never going to use these things, they're just taking up valuable space.

Keep supplies stocked
Ninety-four percent of office workers are less productive when they don't have all the supplies they need to work. Order necessary supplies like Post-it Notes, flags, tabs, daily planners, professional notebooks and pens. Then, put colored flags on the calendar to mark when you need to re-order supplies so you're never without the necessities.

Rethink your desktop
A clean desktop is essential to productivity, however many people are guilty of having their desk covered with unnecessary items. If you don't use it weekly, find another place for it. That means unused folders, staplers, tape dispensers, and the like can go in a drawer.

An office supply staple
Despite the rise of the digital office, Post-it Notes are still an office staple. On average, office workers use 30 Post-it Notes per week. Keep these handy note pads close by so you can easily use them to mark paperwork or write your coworker a note of encouragement.

Corral pens
Pens and other office extras like scissors, letter openers and highlighters look tidy when placed in a jar on your desk. A big jar can hold everything or use smaller jars to sort each item into its own container. Clear glass jars makes it easy to see what's inside.

Think vertically
If you're short on desktop space, think vertically. Walls provide ample opportunity for unique storage. One stylish and affordable option is to cut a peg board and place it in an open frame. This eye-catching wall hanging allows for easy access to office essentials.

Write it down
Sixty-two percent of office workers prefer to manage their to-do list on a piece of paper rather than a computer or digital device. Write your task list on a Post-it Super Sticky Note and place it somewhere you'll see it, such as the edge of your computer monitor or the front of your notebook. This visual reminder will keep you on-task throughout the day.

Don't sweat the small stuff
At a loss for how to organize paper clips, tacks and other small office items? Small tins are a great way to sort and store these office odds and ends. Place them in drawers so they are out of sight.

Systemize folders
Tackle that pile of folders in the corner and create a simple organizational system using Post-it Tabs. Color code the folders based on your work responsibilities so each tab color is tied to a specific task or status of a project.

Cut cord chaos
Are you always digging under your desk for the right cord? Black binder clips typically used to hold paperwork together are also great for organizing USB, cell phone chargers and other cables. Clip to the side of your desk and thread the chord through the metal to eliminate tangles.

Want more office organization tips? Visit Post-it.com/officeorg to tidy up and streamline productivity fast.

Survey details: The 3M Post-it Brand Office Organization survey was conducted by Wakefield Research (http://www.wakefieldresearch.com) among 1,000 full-time U.S. office workers in 2015, using an email invitation and an online survey.

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Expert Advice for Surviving Severe Weather

Brandpoint  |  2016-02-03

When power is lost to your home, a standby generator automatically turns on and can power critical systems and appliances, including lights, HVAC, refrigerators, sump pumps and even delicate electronics.

Are you prepared for harsh winter weather?

(BPT) - It’s out there - that next bout of severe weather is on its way. No matter where you live in the United States, the potential for severe weather always exists and sometimes it comes without much warning.

“None of us really knows what the weather holds,” says LT. General Russel L. Honore, U.S. Army (Ret). “That’s why it’s important to be prepared for any eventuality. You have to be able to be your own first responder if the situation calls for it.”

There are few who understand the power of severe weather and natural disasters better than Honore. The commander of Joint Task Force Katrina, Honore is now a nationally recognized emergency preparedness expert. Each day he dedicates himself to helping Americans prepare for serve weather or natural disasters in order to create a “Culture of Preparedness,” and help people be self-sufficient in instances of disaster.

Why you should be prepared

When Hurricane Katrina struck, 2.6 million people lost power, many for nearly a month. Today’s hurricanes, as well as winter ice storms and blizzards can also cause extended outages that can leave the unprepared equally trapped and powerless in their home.

Honore says it’s essential all families develop an emergency plan. This plan should include a safe place in your home where you can find shelter and a safe location if you are away from home or you are forced to evacuate. Each family member should also have a cell phone so they can communicate with each other and every home should contain an emergency kit. The kit should include a weather radio, flashlight(s), batteries, first aid kit, money, medications, heavy clothes and five days of non-perishable food and water.

The importance of power

“The number one issue you face in an emergency situation is access to reliable power,” Honore says. “When you lose power, it sets our society back at least 100 years."

In today’s world, many of the things people need to survive are tied to power. A loss of power cuts off communication, makes it difficult to attain food and water, creates sanitation issues and hinders temperature controls such as heating and air conditioning.

“Because power is so important, I recommend homeowners invest in a dependable standby generator,” Honore says.

Unlike portable generators, a standby generator automatically turns on when power is lost. A standby generator, which is permanently connected to your house like a central air conditioning unit, has the ability to power everything in your home including your heat and air conditioning systems, refrigerator, lights, computers, television and other technologies. Each of these modern-day necessities are indispensable during an emergency. And best of all, because the standby generator connects to your home’s existing fuel lines, you’ll never need to worry about refueling it to keep the power up and running.

“I’ve personally been through this process,” Honore says. “I have a Kohler standby generator connected to my home and I recommend everyone make having an automatic backup power supply part of their emergency preparedness plan.”

Next steps

To learn more about automatic standby generators, visit KohlerGenerators.com. You’ll have the chance to watch informative videos explaining standby power and how it works. Start your research today so when the next big storm arrives, you’ll be ready.

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