If You Want to Make Your Pre-Winter Roof Checkup Easier, Your Attic Can Help

If you put any stock in the Farmer’s Almanac, it’s going to be a harsh winter. Which is one of the many reasons to check the health of your roof now . By using your attic, you may save yourself a trip to the hospital.

Think of it this way: No homeowner wants to be climbing a ladder 25 feet or so into the sky when Old Man Winter hits. Instead, your attic – which is a lot more comfortable – can substitute, as a fallback, for the eyeball roof check experts recommend be done every pre-winter and spring to identify problems before they become even more serious headaches.

Want to Avoid Home Improvement Blunders? Follow These 3 Tips (Including Using VR)

If you want proof of how carefully you need to weigh the alternatives before making upgrades to your home, you have only to look at the Florida couple who last year painted their house as an homage to the artist Vincent Van Gogh’s famous canvas, “The Starry Night.” It wasn’t just that it was an odd choice for an exterior – it was that the city of Mount Dora took them to court over it.

“Graffiti,” the city calls it. “First Amendment!” counters homeowner Lubek Jastrzebski, an immigrant from Communist-era Poland, who argues that the city code didn’t address house colors or aesthetics.

Five Hot Trends in Hardwood Flooring

(NewsUSA) – More than ever, homeowners are appreciating the added value – aesthetic and monetary – that hardwood floors bring to a home."They also offer what can be an overwhelming variety of possibilities and choices," says Linda Jovanovich of the American Hardwood Information Center, www.hardwoodinfo.com. "Here’s a look at five top flooring trends that will help if you can’t see the wood for the trees." Made in America "There’s a growing demand for American-produced hardwoods," says Michael Martin, President and CEO of the National Wood Flooring Association."It’s part of the general trend toward locally-sourced materials of all kinds in the U.S."Consumer concerns about sustainability, quality, safety, and environmental factors are more easily addressed when a hardwood is domestically grown and milled. Plus, the U.S. offers an unrivaled range of readily available species suitable for flooring. Stains and Finishes Gray is a classic "neutral" that’s never truly out of fashion. It’s currently one of the most popular colors, ranging from pale smoke to deep charcoal, showing up on hardwood flooring."Whether light or dark, gray stains bring out any wood’s natural grain and texture," says New York interior designer Laura Bohn. "Grays are versatile and timeless – quiet and soothing colors that recede into the background without losing personality or becoming faceless. They work in any style décor, yet always look modern." SpeciesFor several years, the trend was toward characterful woods like hickory, but recently, white oak has moved to the front. Along with abundance, durability, and reasonable cost, white oak offers aesthetic advantages."It can be stained light, dark, or somewhere in between," says interior designer Emily Morrow Finkell, CEO of Emily Morrow Home. "Many of the popular gray-brown shades look especially sophisticated applied to white oak. Consumers see and love it in magazines and websites, making it a perfect ‘attainable home upgrade.’" The Wider, The Better "It’s all about wide, wider, widest!" says NWFA’s Michael Martin. "Planks of up to 7 inches in width are considered normal now. Traditional strip flooring still remains popular, but wide-plank is the market leader."As Melissa Morgan of M Interiors in San Antonio says, "Wider floorboards can make a space look larger and more modern. The floor can be treated like a canvas: ebonized for a sleek, dark look; light-stained for an urban vibe; distressed for a rustic affect – the possibilities are endless." Popular Patterns "One way to set your home interior apart is by tapping into the trend for herringbone-and- chevron-pattern hardwood floors, which show up increasingly in decorating magazines," says Morrow Finkell. But as Michael Martin points out, "Since installing herringbone floors is a time-and labor-intensive process, they’re more common in high-end projects than in the average middle-class home." Still, if you can afford to splurge, these floors are a gorgeous addition to any room.Visit www.hardwoodinfo.com for more about residential design trends and other applications and products using American hardwoods. 

Your Attic Can Make Pre-Winter Roof Checkups Easier

(NewsUSA) – Sponsored by GAF – If you believe the Farmer’s Almanac, it’s going to be a brutal winter. Which is all the more reason to check the health of your roof now – using your attic to maybe save you from breaking your neck.That’s right, your attic.Think about it: No homeowner really wants to be climbing 25 feet or so into the air on a ladder when the weather is turning colder and nastier. But unbeknownst to many, your attic – which is a lot safer and more comfortable – can actually substitute, as a fallback, for the direct roof check experts recommend be done every pre-winter and spring to identify problems before they become even more serious headaches."Roofs actually create an insulated barrier that helps trap heat inside, and most attic spaces are located right below them," explains Jason Joplin, program manager of CARE (the GAF Center for the Advancement of Roofing Excellence). "That makes them perfect for spotting potential problem areas and damage without worrying about falling off a ladder."Here’s what to look for while you’re up there:* Water leaks. As sure as taxes will be due in April, it will storm. And when it does, shine a flashlight up in the attic to check not only for dripping water and condensation, but also for water stains on the ceiling, walls and floors. All are dead giveaways that H2O is finding its way beneath your roof’s shingles or behind its flashings.* Stuffed vents. There’s a reason Joplin likens the attic to "the lungs of the house.""It has to be able to breathe in order to function properly," he says.Meaning, vents clogged with debris impede proper ventilation and need to be cleared. Unless, of course, you’re okay with (among other things) higher energy bills.* Animal damage. Yes, squirrels are cute – when they’re frolicking on park lawns. They’re not cute, however, when they (along with bats, birds and raccoons) wreak potential damage by using your home for refuge. You’ll know if they’ve been hiding out by these telltale signs: nests, droppings, and gnawed wood, wires, or insulations.First call on your list? A pest-control pro.* Structural problems. The mere hint of a sagging roof – you’ll need to look up for this – could indicate possible structural weakness requiring professional repair before the first snowfall adds any more weight to it.And if your goal is prolonging your roof’s life, you’ll want to be sure any professional roofing contractor you consult is insured, factory-certified, and uses quality materials. Joplin, for one, recommends the latest triple-layer line of Glenwood Shingles – the thickest of its kind, with an authentic wood-shake look – from GAF, North America’s largest roofing manufacturer. A free service that makes it easy to find a factory-certified contractor in your area can be found at gaf.com.Oh, and just so you don’t dawdle, here’s the Farmer’s Almanac’s definition of a brutal winter: "very long, cold, and snow-filled."

3 Tips (Including Virtual Reality) For Avoiding Home Improvement Blunders

(NewsUSA) – Sponsored by GAF – Want proof of how carefully you need to weigh the alternatives before making upgrades to your home?Look no further than the Florida couple who last year decided to have their house painted to look like artist Vincent Van Gogh’s famous canvas "The Starry Night." It wasn’t just that it was such an odd choice for an exterior that it attracted tourists – sort of the local answer to New York’s Madame Tussauds – it was that the city of Mount Dora took them to court over it."Graffiti," the city called it."First Amendment!" countered homeowner Lubek Jastrzebski, an immigrant from Communist-era Poland, who argued that the city code didn’t address house colors and aesthetics.Yes, that’s an extreme example of unintended consequences. But even though legally the homeowners wound up off the hook, anyone now contemplating shelling out significant bucks on home improvements should read on for some tips on avoiding costly missteps.* Don’t paint your house brown either. Since most people have it in the back of their minds that they’ll eventually want to attract buyers other than those obsessed with Dutch post-impressionist painters partial to yellow and blue swirls, know that Zillow.com just concluded that medium brown and taupe were the worst exterior color choices in terms of resale value.Both depressed the sales price by $1,970 compared to homes painted white, an analysis by the real estate website of more than 32,000 photos from sold residential properties around the country found. "Greige," on the other hand – a combination of gray and beige – was the big winner, fetching $3,496 more than its drab brown counterparts.* Tech is your friend. It was two years ago that a noted design guru had this to say to the New York Times about online virtual reality, augmented reality, and 3D rendering tools: "It’s definitely the wave of the future, because it allows the general population to make design decisions without feeling hesitant or insecure," said Khoi Vo, a professor and the chair of the department of interior design at Savannah College of Art and Design.Well, the future is undoubtedly here, with programs like Room Sketcher even allowing you to play architect by creating your own floor plan, furnishing the space, and then visualizing your work in 3D.But say what you’re interested in is boosting your home’s all-important curb appeal with a roof upgrade. The Virtual Home Remodeler from GAF (gaf.com), North America’s largest roofing manufacturer, lets you experiment with different looks by first either downloading a photo of your own home or choosing from among the many styles – everything from Victorian to ranch to French country – pictured on the website."It’s an easy way to see what would look best with your home," said Paul Dellanno, assistant marketing manager at GAF. "Because what may work for a ranch-style house may not work for a Tudor."Once you’ve picked a house style, the process continues. Do you prefer the Antique Slate color shingles from the company’s Camelot Shingle line you clicked on, for example, or the Golden Prairie color ones from the Glenwood Shingle line?And the house trim and exterior walls? White or something more daring?As Dellano explained, "you can even check how the result looks at different times of day and seasons."* Be wary of fads. "It looked like Darth Vader had moved in," is how a writer for Realty.com described the latest trend of painting houses black in her Brooklyn, New York, neighborhood.Word to the wise: The classics are classic for a reason. 

If You’re A Homeowner, It’s Time to Prep for Storm Season

It’s the time of year that homeowners most dread: storm season. And with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicting five to nine hurricanes – with as many as four “major” ones boasting sustained winds of 111-plus mph – they’re anticipating an “active” six months or so through the end of November.

And while no one’s saying there will be a repeat of last season’s devastating hurricanes, it clearly pays for homeowners to be prepared.

Read on for some of the best advice on readying for the next (inevitable) storm.

Yes, Homeowners, It’s Time to Prepare for Storm Season

(NewsUSA) – Sponsored by GAF – Here we go again?Five to nine hurricanes – with as many as four "major" ones boasting sustained winds of 111-plus mph – is what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration just predicted for this year’s storm season. In other words, they’re calling for an "active" six months or so through the end of November.And while no one’s saying we’re in for a repeat of last season’s devastating triple whammy – yes, we do mean Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria – ask anyone still dealing with the havoc of having had their house battered in one of those storms if they don’t still wonder what more they could’ve done to be better prepared."It only takes one storm to devastate a community," said Acting FEMA Deputy Administrator Daniel Kaniewski.Read on for some of the best advice on readying for the next (inevitable) storm.* Check your insurance. The coups de grace for many of those hit hardest last year was discovering that they’d have to find a way to pay all or some of their rebuilding costs themselves. The reasons ranged from lack of flood insurance (only those with federally backed mortgages living in designated high-risk zones are required by law to buy it) to a local spike in the price of labor and materials."Hurricane Harvey (in Texas) showed that flooding can also damage properties outside the highest-risk zones," the Wall Street Journal noted, quoting a former New York insurance commissioner as saying that "even financially literate people" don’t understand that floods aren’t covered in the standard homeowners policy.* Clean your gutters. Even in perfect weather, Angie’s List says you’re looking at a possible "nightmare" if they’re so clogged with mounds of leaves, sticks, and other debris that it causes your roof to leak. And if you factor in a hurricane-strength rain, suddenly the very roofing system component meant to control the flow of all that water – thus protecting your roof, walls, foundation, and landscape from the aforementioned flooding – can be about as useful as spoiled milk."If you let gutter cleaning go by the wayside, it could cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars," the website warned.* Make sure your roof is in good condition. The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety actually built a test chamber where experts could simulate the effects of hurricanes and other natural disasters on full-scale one- and two-story homes. So when its president and CEO, Julie Rochman, tells CBSNews.com‘s "MoneyWatch" that "it all starts with the roof," you need to pay attention."The roof," she said, "is the largest potential opening on the house, and wind and water can do terrible things if they get through (it)."Ergo, now’s the time to have a professional roofing contractor check for (and fix) any signs of wear and tear like broken or missing shingles, fractured fiberglass mat, and loosening of the self-seal strip. These tell-tale signs, especially if they resulted from damage from hail, can be difficult to spot yourself. And if you do decide to replace your roof? "Consider shingles that have passed the UL2218, Class 4 impact test," advised Jason Joplin, program manager of CARE (the GAF Center for the Advancement of Roofing Excellence).Joplin especially likes the Timberline ArmorShield II line of shingles from GAF (gaf.com), North America’s largest roofing manufacturer. In addition to looking good, they’re made with SBS modified asphalt, which he described as "a rubber-like material for enhanced flexibility and durability during extreme weather conditions."An added bonus: Depending on where you live, shingles like these could help you qualify for significant discounts on your homeowner’s insurance.* Trim weak tree branches. Need we say more than people have actually died from trees and branches crashing into their houses? 

Outdoor Spaces Offer Style And Comfort

(NewsUSA) – If you enjoy relaxing and entertaining on your porch or patio, you are not alone.Today’s homeowners love being outdoors, and design professionals are being tasked with creating extravagant outdoor living areas with all the creature comforts that are typically found indoors – a task they’re accomplishing with natural building materials such as cypress.Mark Tuck of the Southern Cypress Manufacturers Association, www.CypressInfo.org, says, "Cypress is a beautiful wood that looks exotic. More importantly, it is a durable wood that – when properly installed and maintained – provides long-lasting performance. It’s perfect for outdoor use!"Unlike other species that need to be pressure-treated with chemicals for outdoor use, cypress comes by its durability naturally. When growing, cypress trees produce cypressene in their heartwood. This preservative oil protects the wood from the elements, and it repels insects such as termites and carpenter bees that often feed on and nest in other species."Thanks to its natural characteristics," Tuck adds, "cypress has typically been used as siding or as an outdoor ceiling product. But more recently, design professionals are using it for a variety of other outdoor applications."Cypress for the Outdoor Floor"Outdoor rooms, peaceful spaces, and low-maintenance materials are the buzzwords I hear most from my clients," says Nancy Moore of The Porch Company in Nashville, Tennessee."I like to use cypress in spaces that are exposed to the elements. From my experience, it holds up well to blowing rain that may come in. I love its character, authenticity, longevity, and the fact that it is a renewable resource."Moore says that her clients prefer porch designs that flow from the inside to the outside, which includes the flooring."We typically use tongue-and-groove cypress for our porch floors because it makes the space feel like another room of the house – a room that just happens to have walls that breathe."The New Heart of the HomeThe heart of the home has long been the kitchen, right? So as today’s homeowners spend more time outside, creating a secondary kitchen outdoors is a top priority.When crafting cabinetry for outdoor kitchens, Rod Richardson of Associated Construction Group, Gonzales, Louisiana, relies on cypress, and for good reasons. "It offers value, appearance, and performance that lasts," Richardson says. "In my 20 years of building outdoor kitchens with cypress, I haven’t had a callback."There are many building materials available, but one has stood the test of time and that’s wood. It offers an appearance, feel, and even smell that you can’t re-create with man-made products. And when I show customers different cabinet materials – even different woods – they usually lean towards cypress."Incorporate cypress into your lavish outdoor space. See how at www.CypressInfo.org

Defining Luxury: American Hardwoods

(NewsUSA) – For everyone seeking to transform lackluster into extraordinary, the product choice is American hardwood. Distinctive, characterful, and unmatched in function, flexibility and sheer beauty, products made from American hardwoods are redefining "luxury," and adding warmth and grand style to both the charmingly rustic and the sleekly sophisticated.With color, texture and grain unique to each hardwood species, these magnificent products are as individual as you. And whether on the floor or over the fireplace, in the kitchen or in the office, they provide the opportunity and means to personalize each and every space. So step beyond cookie-cutter and ascend into lavish with the allure of cherry, the iridescence of sycamore, the elegance of walnut!The appeal is real. Today’s informed buyers recognize American hardwood as the gold standard, then and now! So isn’t it time to realize your vision of luxury?For answers and inspiration, visit the photo gallery of hardwood flooring, cabinetry, furniture and millwork at www.HardwoodInfo.com. And follow us on Facebook and Pinterest @AmericanHardwoods, and Twitter @AmericanHardwds.Watch the video here.

If You’re A First Time Home Buyer, This Primer Can Help

Finally ready to own instead of rent? Welcome to the club.

After waiting for what seemed like forever, first-time homebuyers last year made 38 percent of all U.S. single-family home purchases – the biggest share since 2000 – and the 2.07 million new or existing houses they bought ended up being 7 percent more than in 2016, Bloomberg.com reports.

But the market for house-hunting newbies has changed drastically from that most recent high mark of nearly two decades ago. Read on.