Frequently Asked Questions

Exterior

Question:
Are brick patios as long lasting as concrete?
Answer:

With the right installation, brick can be a beautiful addition to your backyard. But, they can buckle if not laid properly. As usual, hire a reputable contractor for this project, and your patio should last for decades. The contractor should remove the topsoil and excavate the area to at least 6 inches deep. The area will be filled with crushed stone compacted tightly, allowing approximately 2 inches for the bricks. (If the excavation is 6 inches, the contractor would fill the hole with 4 inches of stone.) Weed barrier fabric and sand may be put on top of the stone. When the pavers are installed, they should be tightly abutting each other. Discuss the design with your contractor. There is a wide range of options - the more intricate, the more expensive.

Question:
In the winter, I have a lot of icicles and ice dams forming around my gutters and soffit. What can I do to remedy the problem?
Answer:

Ice problems along the roofline are a common problem in Chicago and are caused by heat escaping the home through the attic and melting the snow on the roof. Once the water begins to run off the side of the roof and hits the cold ambient air, it freezes causing the icing problem. This problem is typically symbolic of improper insulation, venting, and/or draft blocking in your attic. A reputable contractor should take a look at these things and will be able to provide you with a precise diagnosis to the problem.

Flooring

Question:
What's the best way to remove carpet padding from hardwood floors without damaging them?
Answer:

If there are staples holding the padding in place, they may come up easily as you pull up the padding. If not, a pair of pliers will do the trick. If the padding has adhered itself to the floor finish a scraper with a very dull blade should bring up the old padding. Be sure not to gouge the floor with the scraper. Although lightly scraping the floor won't permanently harm the floor, you will need to have the floor sanded and refinished. Any holes from staples and tack strips are easily repaired if you have the floor refinished.

Question:
I removed the carpet in a bedroom to fix a squeaky floor and found that it is a large piece of plywood. How do I fix the squeaky areas and what kind of inexpensive, attractive flooring do you recommend without recarpeting?
Answer:

The first step would be to remove all the carpet, padding, and tack strips at the walls (if you don't plan on recarpeting). Repair the squeaky floor by running screws through the sub floor and in the floor joists wherever you find squeaks. Remember, you may eliminate these squeaks now, but additional ones are likely to crop up over time. Next, select the type of flooring you would like to use. The quality and durability of the flooring will depend on the price. Some choices are:

  1. Vinyl flooring - sheet or square. Advantages are: square vinyl is easy to install; inexpensive, fairly durable, easy to clean, easy to repair by replacing a square (sheet vinyl is difficult to repair if damaged). Note: there are some big quality differences in vinyl flooring. You will probably need to put down an underlayment before tiling, as the sub floor is usually too rough.
  2. Laminated flooring: Advantages are: somewhat easy to install, goes over many different existing surfaces (you would not need underlayment), durable, moderately priced, and easy to clean.
  3. Wood flooring: You would probably want the 3/8-inch thick type. While being somewhat easy to install and very attractive, it can be more expensive.
  4. Ceramic tile, while very easy to maintain, attractive and durable, is a very hard surface and not typically used in a bedroom.
  5. The least expensive option - probably to recarpet.
Question:
My hardwood flooring squeaks considerably in certain areas and I can even feel the floor move a bit when I walk on it. Other areas seem fine. What is the source and what can be done? There is no crawlspace underneath and I believe the foundation is slab.
Answer:

Typically there are two reasons floors squeak: 1) the underside of the floor boards may be rubbing on the sub floor, or 2) the wood is sliding up and down the nails that hold the flooring to the sub floor. These conditions may worsen in times of low humidity. If you cannot get beneath the floor, your option is to surface nail the floor boards. To do this, use finish nails, preferably ribbed to reduce the likelihood of it backing out, and toenail - nail at an angle, not perpendicular to the floor - two nails per floorboard at opposite angles. Again this is to keep them from backing out as easily. Countersink the nails slightly and fill with wood fill or putty in a color to camouflage the repair. Remember, wood floors will continue to develop squeaks over time. Heating, cooling, humidity and the house settling are all contributors.

Heating & Air Conditioning

Question:
We have a forced hot air system in our home that is relatively new. The registers on the lower floor are long, brown and not very attractive looking. Can we change out the registers to a more compact subdued register without losing the efficiency in heati
Answer:

If you change the size of the opening (square inches) you will affect the efficiency of the furnace. Technically, the system should be balanced according to the existing grates. Your best option is to replace the existing grates with new ones in a different color or material that would not be so offensive. Wood ones are available that work well on wood floors and there are also decorative brass and cast iron registers. Check your local home improvement store for a wide supply of choices.

Kitchen & Bath

Question:
Are there any "tricks" when remodeling a small bathroom to make it seem larger?
Answer:

First, choose white or light colors for your fixtures and cabinets. This will keep the room bright and make it feel airy. If you are putting ceramic tile on your floor or walls, use larger size (8 by 8 or 12 by 12). Although white goes with everything, you may want the floor tile to have a little light color in them. Efficient lighting is a must. You can use a vent/light fixture or a few recessed fixtures (can lights) for general light in the bathroom. However, you will also need to light up the area by the sink. Install a light fixture over the mirror that will shine down on the sink area. A large mirror over the sink will help to expand the room. Install a clear glass shower door. You will be amazed how much bigger the room feels by seeing all the way to the back of the shower. Window coverings should also be kept simple. Either install vertical blinds or a light weight material curtain - not both. Add color with towels and accessories. Enjoy your new, seemingly larger, bathroom.

Question:
We are considering remodeling our master bathroom - Corian countertop, sinks and possibly shower walls with maybe Pergo around the toilet and outside the shower. Are these materials well regarded? We would like a luxurious look without high maintenance.
Answer:

Corian and granite will accomplish your more luxurious look; however, for ease in maintenance the solid surface material is recommended. Corian has ready-to-install shower and bathtub wall packages available in standard sizes and limited colors. They also offer shower pans. However if budget is concern, you may want to use a fiberglass shower pan with the Corian walls for a great look. For the vanity tops, Corain has prefabricated standard size tops with integral bowls. But, you don't have to stop there. Corian is available in many colors, and shower walls and vanity tops can be fabricated using any of the colors. The bowl colors can be integrated into whichever color top you request. As for the flooring, Pergo, which is a laminated flooring material, is a great product. The major drawback is that you cannot use this type of flooring in high moisture areas like bathrooms. Your best flooring option for that luxurious look would be ceramic or porcelain tile. Both are available in an array of colors, designs and styles. You may want to consider installing radiant heat under those tiles to keep the floor warm as you exit your shower. An important factor in your remodeling decision is to hire the proper contractor. You will not achieve that luxurious look, if the products aren't installed properly.

Painting/Wallpaper

Question:
Our home was built in 1953 and I believe there might be lead based paint on the windowsills. What type of paint should I use to cover it?
Answer:

Any home built prior to 1978, when lead based paint was banned, is at risk. Contractors must be licensed pursuant to the RRP Lead Law to work on homes with lead paint. If the paint is not chipping, peeling, cracking or being disturbed it is unlikely to cause a problem. The worst thing you can do is to allow lead based paint to chip or to create dust by sanding, scraping or friction. Ask your painting or remodeling contractor if they are RRP licensed prior to doing any work.

Question:
Do you have a suggestion on removing wallpaper?
Answer:

First remove as much of the paper as comes off easily. If the face comes off but the backing remains on the wall, buy an inexpensive pump sprayer. Fill it with hot water (some people use a bit of vinegar as well). Starting at the top, thoroughly spray down the wallpaper backing. Reapply a few times to get it really wet. Try taking a drywall taping blade or putty knife, and gently scrape down the wall. Depending on the paper, you might have to repeat this a few times. Be careful no to damage the drywall with the scraping tools. Once the paper is removed, be sure to clean all the glue off the walls using T.S.P. (tri-sodium phosphate) following the manufacturer's directions. Don't forget to use rubber gloves! All glue residues should be removed from the wall prior to re-wallpapering or painting. Paint could develop cracks if the surface is not clean.

Room Additions

Question:
Which is more expensive - an addition going up or an addition going out?
Answer:

It depends on the size and scope of the remodeling project. You will, of course, have all the typical aspects of remodeling (demolition, framing, walls, electrical, ventilation, etc.), whether you are adding on or up. However, there will be extra costs in both types of remodeling. Additions going out will require a plat of survey and concrete footings. Whereas, additions going up will require an analysis to determine if the structure you will be building your second story on is strong enough to hold it. You should take time to determine exactly what your needs are. Proceed with the work only after you have the approved plans and permits necessary - and hire a reputable and professional contractor.

Windows & Doors

Question:
I am looking to replace some old windows. The existing windows are steel casements, but also have aluminum storm windows on the outside of the house. The storm windows appear to have been attached to the brick with nails and sealed with glazing compound.
Answer:

Whether it's dried glazing compound or caulk, it needs to be cut or scraped off. One suggestion would be to clean the brick with a drill and a wire brush attachment. Another possibility would be to paint over the compound. Purchase three colors of flat exterior latex paint in the colors of your brick. Using a stiff bristled brush, dip and mix into the three colors and dab the paint on the glazing compound to match your brick. This will work on paint drips and caulk, too.

Question:
Are there rollers on sliding patio doors and is there a way to adjust them so the door slides more easily?
Answer:

Typically, on any wood or aluminum sliding glass door, there are adjustments for the rollers. You will find small ¼ inch holes on the sides (the 1½ inch side) near the bottom. Insert a Phillips head screwdriver into the hole. You will be able to feel when it goes into the slots of the screw. Turning the screwdriver will adjust the rollers (one way will raise and the other will lower). When raising the door, you may need to lift the door panel slightly, either with a helper or a small crow bar under the door, due to the weight of the door. Once the door is adjusted, you can also add some silicone spray into the same holes, to help the door glide more easily. If the roller bearings are bad, you may need to replace them. To do this, lift the panel up and pull the bottom out of the track with the help of another person. With the door on its side, you can easily see the rollers. Remove on and take it to your local hardware store or home center to ensure you replace it with the same type, size, etc. Keeping the track clean and free of debris, in addition to lubricating the rollers, will help prolong the life of the rollers.

Question:
What does Low-E glass mean and how does it work?
Answer:

Low-E stands for Low Emissivity. The dictionaries describe that as the ratio of the radiation emitted by the surface to the radiation emitted by the black body at the same temperature. What does that mean to us? It reflects heat back to the source. For instance, during the summer the heat from the sun is beating down on your house, and the objects surrounding your house. As the heat radiates off these objects, it can enter your home through the windows. The Low-E glass has a metallic (silver, zinc or tin) coating, that will send the heat back to its source. This keeps your house cooler in the summer. During the winter, it works from the inside. The heat inside your home radiates off the objects inside your house. The Low-E glass will radiate the heat back - inevitably keeping the heat inside. Low-E glass can also reduce ultraviolet-ray penetration by at least 73 percent to help keep drapes, rugs or furniture from fading.

Question:
My front door needs replacing and in order to get pricing from the lumberyard, I need to know if the door is a right hand or left hand swing. How can this be determined?
Answer:

Place your back against the hinge side of the jamb. If the door opens to your right, it is a right-handed door and vise versa. However, some manufacturers have different standards to determine the swing. By taking a picture of your old door to the supplier, they will be able to determine the swing.

Structural

Question:
How do I go about jacking up my house in order to replace floor joists that need replacing?
Answer:

While the phrase "jacking up the house" seems relatively easy, there are some important factors to consider. You can do major structural damage to your house by jacking up a portion improperly. Very often a sag takes years to develop, and you cannot just go in and correct it all at once. We cannot give you any recommendations for repair without seeing the problem. Therefore, it would be in your best interest to contact a qualified contractor who may want to bring in a structural engineer.