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The #1 Home Improvement Project For Return on Investment


Looking to boost your home’s value? According to Remodeling Magazine, the number one home improvement for recouping your return on investment is the addition of an attic bedroom.The nationwide average cost of this project is a bit over $50,000, however you can expect to recoup 72.5% of the cost once it comes time to sell the home.

According to This Old House, you should consider the following building-code basics for turning attic space into living space:

1. Access and egress: code generally requires a full-size staircase and two ways out of the room in case of fire.
2. Ceiling height: there must be 7 feet of headroom of a floor of at least 70 square feet.
3. Floor support: joists and a sub-floor are most likely needed.
4. Ventilation and insulation:very important for heating and cooling costs

Click here for the original article This old house

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Kitchen Remodel Saga – Part 1

Tomorrow is D-Day for demolition of our kitchen.

StovesThis did not start out as a total kitchen remodel. It was going to be a fairly straightforward matter of purchasing some new appliances, but then everything seemed to snowball from there.

It all started when one of our ovens stopped working and then the other one died not long after. We were told they weren’t worth fixing. Better to just replace them. The only problem? These ovens were part of side-by-side 30 ” ranges. Our only option was to buy two new 30″ ranges to replace them, which didn’t seem to make a lot of sense. I mean, who needs two stoves? What we really wanted was one of those big hefty industrial strength stoves that are all the rage, not two more of the wimpy kind that we currently have. But we couldn’t get one of those because it wouldn’t fill the whole space left by the two outgoing ranges. Read the rest of this entry »

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7 Ways to Prevent Basement Flooding

flooded basementOn the North Shore of Chicago, April showers bring May flowers…and flooded basements. Drive down almost any street in the area after a heavy rain and you’ll see soaked carpet piled on the sidewalk. Actually, the worst storms we’ve had in recent years have been in late summer and early fall, but springtime is the next worst season when it comes to water problems.

In some cases wet basements are a result of seepage. In others (like my neighborhood) it’s because the sanitary sewer system backs up when it rains too hard for too long. Either way, it’s not fun and you want to prevent it at all costs. Otherwise, you not only have a big mess on your hands and lots of damaged stuff, but you may have problems with your insurance company if you make more than two claims (I know from first-hand experience).

Here are seven things you can do to help prevent your basement from flooding:

Read the rest of this entry »

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Remodeling Projects with Highest Return on Investment

Remodeling Magazine recently released its 2011 Remodeling Cost to Value report, which shows the projects that tend to yield the highest return on investment. Gone are the days when huge kitchen remodels and additions would more than pay for themselves. These days the return has  people are opting for more modest improvements and replacement projects.

1. Replacing the entry door to steel

Estimated cost: $1,238

Cost recouped at resale: 73%

2. Attic bedroom (converting unfinished attic space into a bedroom with bathroom and shower)

Estimated cost: $50,148

Cost recouped at resale: 72.5%

Although this is an expensive project, it continues to provide high value, as it is a way to add a bedroom and bath within the existing footprint of the house.

3. Minor kitchen remodel (including new cabinets and drawers, counter tops, hardware, and appliances)

Estimated cost: $19,588

Cost recouped at resale: 72.1%

4. Garage door replacement

Estimated cost: $1,512

Cost recouped at resale: 71.9%

5. Deck addition (wood)

Estimated cost: $10,350

Cost recouped at resale: 70.1%

6. Siding replacement (vinyl)

Estimated cost: $11,729

Cost recouped at resale: 69.5%


Electronics Banned from Illinois Landfills

no computersEffective January 1, 2012, the Illinois Electronic Products Recycling and Reuse Act has banned from Illinois landfills. Electronic items such as TVs, computers, printers and monitors will no longer be allowed in the regular trash. You can see the entire list of banned electronics here.

You can donate them to a charitable organization if they are in good working order or take them to a retail store that accepts electronics for recycling. Otherwise you can take them to one of the following locations:

Cook County

Glenview Transfer Station
1151 N River Rd
Across from the Maryville Academy
Saturdays: 9:00 am – 11:30 am

Winnetka Public Works
1390 Willow Rd
Tuesdays: 10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Thursdays: 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm

Lake County

City of Highland Park (Firearms Training Center)
1180 Half Day Road
ONLY Tuesdays and Fridays  7:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.  (excluding holidays)
(fluorescent light bulbs, foam containers and packaging materials are also accepted at the Highland Park Electronic Collection)

Village of Round Lake (Public Works Facility)
751 W. Townline Road
Second Tuesday of every other month (March 13)
8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

for more Lake County electronics recycling facilities go here.

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Adding Curb Appeal to a Bland or Unwelcoming Exterior

One of the most human of human traits is that we are attracted to what we think is beautiful. That first impression of beauty can be the lasting impression of a person, or a place, or even a house. As much as we don’t want to label ourselves as being superficial – in many ways, we are just that. We have an unreasoning love of some things just because they look good.

Cars are an example of this. The driver of a Ferrari is the only one around who can’t see the car but he is the one who is most pleased with how it looks. When it comes to houses, there is a special term for this characteristic: Curb Appeal.

Curb Appeal is a sub-category of architecture under the main heading of “Is It Pretty?” ( Category No. 1 is “Will It Stand?”, No. 2; “Does It Work?”. No. 3; “Is It Pretty?”. I’m not making this up; these are the Ancient Roman Precepts of Architecture – really)

Here is a story of a house in Wilmette, Illinois:


Before: a lovely Spanish Style with some interesting details. Just slightly on the un-welcoming side.

Concept Drawing:

Concept Drawing

The original architect was nice enough to leave a little work for us to finish. The drawing above shows our concept for giving this old home more Curb Appeal and function.


After: The added porch welcomes visitors

The completed project enhances the character of the neighborhood and the porch gives the owners of this home a place to enjoy that character. This project recently received an award from the Historic Preservation Commission of Wilmette.

Do you have an old home that isn’t playing nicely with its neighbors? Tell me your house story.

John Vasilion, Vasilion Associates, Inc. Architects

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Locked Out of Your House? Beware of Locksmith Scams

This morning I was watching TV while I made the kids breakfast and saw an expose about locksmith scams. Apparently there are tons of 24 hour emergency locksmith services that people find online or in the phone book when they’ve been locked out of their homes. The locksmith arrives, goes to work, often destroying the lock and the doorknob in the process, and then charges an outrageous fee.

Watch this video to see how shady locksmiths are plying their trade:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

How to avoid being scammed by a locksmith?

1. Give a spare key to someone you trust and who (ideally) lives nearby.

2. Find a reputable locksmith in your town BEFORE you need him, and program his number into your phone. Ask friends for recommendations or find a locksmith who actually has a storefront for his business. Many of the scam artists have fake addresses and are next to impossible to track down if there’s a problem.

3. If you do find yourself in a situation where you have to call a locksmith you’re not familiar with, ask to see his license (in Illinois locksmiths are required to be licensed) and get an estimate in writing before he starts work on your door. And ask up front if he takes credit cards. He is also required by law to ask you for ID to prove that it is your home that you are asking him to “break into.” If he doesn’t, that should be a red flag.

Here is an excellent and reputable locksmith on the North Shore:

Johnson Locksmith
1557 Maple Ave., Evanston

They charge $86 on average for a lock-out.


10 Tips for Downsizers with Too Much Stuff

attic filled with stuffNorth Shore baby-boomers, if you are planning to downsize to a smaller place anytime soon, this Forbes article by Ashlea Ebeling is worth a read.

It’s got great advice on how to maximize the return on all that great stuff you’ve collected over the years and how to minimize the tax consequences. Here’s a summary of her tips:

1. Accept that downsizing is tough.

Most people have an emotional attachment to their stuff, even if it has been up in the attic for years. It’s hard to let go of family heirlooms, old scrapbooks or souvenirs from your honeymoon. Give yourself time to reminisce so that you can let go more easily.

2. Find trusted experts.

Make sure you know which things have value beyond your sentimental attachment before you rush off an sell them on Craig’s List.

3. Call an appraiser to get an objective assessment of value.

4. Be wary of family lore.

Just because Grandma said that chair or vase is a one-of-a-kind doesn’t mean that it is.

5. Don’t toss things out prematurely.

Some things that look like trash aren’t (and vice versa).

6. Call an auction house.

For rarer or more valuable pieces this gives you access to a broader (even international) audience than an estate sale would.

7. Donate and deduct.

You can get a charitable deduction on your taxes if you donate something, but you do need to itemize if it is worth $500 or more.

8. Pass your heirlooms down before you die.

You can gift up to $13,000/year tax-free to as many people as you want (and that includes stuff as well as money).

9. Watch out for capital gains.

10. Remember the tax return.



7 Steps to a No-Cost Room Makeover

Home Sweet HomeDo you wonder how you ever fell in love with your home?  Does your home seem like a stranger, that no longer reflects your personality, your taste or your lifestyle? Are you bored and uninspired by your surroundings? Do you wish you could just move out and start over someplace else? Never fear….redesign is here!

Redesign is the art of giving your space a fresh new look and improved functionality using the things that you already have. Because usually it’s not the things you have that are the problem, but rather the way they are arranged or combined. A few simple changes using basic design principles can make a space more livable, more coherent and more visually pleasing.

Pick a room in your house and follow these seven steps. You’ll be surprised at the difference you can make without spending a dime.

1. Find the Focal Point

Every room needs a focal point. It can be a natural focal point, like a fireplace or a window with a view, or it can be an entertainment center with a TV. Once you have identified it, everything else in the room should revolve around it and focus on it.

2. Create a Conversation Area

Set up your seating in a U-shaped or L-shaped configuration facing the focal point. Anchor and unify the conversation area with a rug whose color coordinates with the upholstery of your seating, and place a coffee table within easy reach.

3, Use Pairs

Using pairs of armchairs, end tables and lamps can create a cohesive and balanced look in the room. If you don’t have matching and tables, you can use two of similar height and finish. Just don’t go overboard with pairs. If everything in the room is one of a pair, it can get monotonous, so mix it up a little.

4. Light It Up

Make sure the room has sufficient light, in the form of general lighting (recessed cans, chandeliers) and task lighting (table and floor lamps). Accent lighting can be used to highlight a painting or as an uplight on the foliage of a large plant. Put all the lighting on dimmers so you can control the overall mood and ambiance of the room.

5. Hang Art at the Right Height

Avoid the mistake of hanging your wall art too high. Art should be hung at eye level only in rooms where people are usually standing, like foyers and hallways. Otherwise, art should be 6-8 inches above a sofa back or 8-10 inches above a console, buffet or desk.

6. Accessorize in Odd Numbers

Placing accessories in groupings of 3, 5 or 7 is more dynamic and visually interesting than even numbered groupings. Use tall, medium and shorter items in the same grouping and place them in a triangular pattern, with the tallest on the end or in the middle.

7. Avoid Clutter

Don’t let accessories dominate. Add only those that will enhance the overall look and feel you are going for. Store the rest and rotate them in when you are ready for a fresh look.


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12 Ways to Make a Small Room Feel Bigger

Living roomWhile cozy can be chic, claustrophobic definitely is not.  De-cluttering is one way to add breathing room to a home, but that will only take you so far. There are many other tricks decorators employ to add the illusion of space and make a home live larger.  And if you are preparing your house to sell, that should definitely be your objective:  lighten, brighten and add space, because more space = a higher value in the eyes of potential buyers and more money in your pocket. Of course, you can’t actually add more rooms, but you CAN make the rooms you have look and feel bigger. Here’s how:

1. Use cooler paint colors on the walls (blues, grays, cool beiges). Cool colors recede, making the room look more expansive. Warmer colors advance and create a cozy but more closed in feeling.

2. Go for a monochromatic color scheme. The less contrast there is in the room, the more spacious it will look. Lots of contrast chops up the space visually and makes a room look smaller. Use the same color on big furniture pieces as on the walls for a sleek and open look. You can keep things from getting too monotonous  by using different textures or by adding punches of color with throw pillows and accessories.

3. Choose curtains or window treatments that maximize natural light (sheers or light-colored panels). Skip the heavy drapes in dark fabrics.

4. Use recessed lighting instead of hanging fixtures to give the impression of a higher ceiling and a cleaner, more stream-lined look.

5. Use the highest recommended wattage in light fixtures - 100 watts, if possible. Putting them on dimmers allows you to control the brightness.

6. Use fewer, larger (but not oversized) pieces of furniture instead of several smaller pieces. This will give the room a less cluttered look.

7. Select upholstered furniture with exposed legs (vs. skirted) to create the illusion of more space.

8. Use glass table tops for coffee tables or dining tables for a more open feel.

Dining room with a view9. Install the same flooring throughout the space to maximize flow. Mixing flooring types or using area rugs gives a more chopped up feel to the space.

10. Consider removing doors between rooms of living areas to open up the space.

11. If you have a good view, hang a large mirror or group of mirrors opposite (or diagonal to) the window with the view. The mirror will “read” as another window, expanding the space and bringing in more light.

12. Keep table and counter surfaces relatively clear. Don’t let accessories and knick-knacks dominate, as the space will appear busy and cluttered.

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