There are many benefits to remodeling your home; at the top of the list is pride of homeownership.  But for so many of us, we have to remodel our home in stages – we don’t have unlimited funds to changes everything at once.  If you do not have an urgent need to remodel a particular space over another (ie. leaking roof, structural damage, etc.), how do you decide what takes priority?  If you are looking for tax deductions, then you may want to consider these remodeling projects first.

Current Tax Breaks

Cash for Clunker Appliances

Starting this fall, as part of the economic stimulus plan under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the “Cash for Clunkers” extends to Appliances.  Basically, purchase a new energy efficient appliance and get a tax credit of $200.  Just like the “Cash for Clunker Automobiles” there is a set dollar amount set aside for this program and once the money is gone, the program is over.

Appliance companies should have available to you the list of products they carry that qualify.  You may have to surrender your existing appliance in order to receive the benefit.

Energy Efficiency Tax Break

Install a solar panel to provide your home energy and not only will you see a substantial tax credit and your electric usage drop, but you may even be able to sell energy back to the electric company. 

For those of us who are less adventurous – upgrade your boiler, heater, furnace, air conditioner, windows, roof, or insulation and you will not only see savings on your gas and electric bills.  

The credit covers 30% of the energy saving improvements, capping at $1,500 for 2009 and 2010.  The credit will no longer be available after 2010.  When you complete your tax return be sure to include Form 5695.  The IRS website gives more information.

Potential Future Tax Breaks

The Home Improvements Revitalize the Economy (HIRE) Act of 2009

Provides a tax deduction of up to $2,000 per family, or a tax credit of $500, for the purchase of certain materials and home furnishings.  If you use green products that meet LEED (or other recognized standards) the tax deduction would actually double.  Purchases excluded from the HIRE Act are major appliances, housewares and electronics.

The lead sponsors of the HIRE Act are Rep. Henry Johnson and Rep. Nathan Deal from Georgia.  (Be sure to contact them and your local representatives if you feel this benefit would have a positive effect on the American economy.)

Canada has had a similar program in place since January and has seen a positive effect in stimulating the home improvement industry with one in three Canadians planning to take advantage of the program. (Home Channel News, 9/21/09, pg 35)  For more information visit the HIRE Act of 2009.

Like the auto industry, the home improvement industry is huge.  This is a service industry rooted in American workers and the US economy.  In the past couple years over 270,000 Americans have lost their jobs in the building products and home furnishings sector, and a loss of over 290,000 jobs are expected for 2009.  Keeping Americans working is not only a short term tax relief for homeowners, but it is a way to help us all weather the long term effects of this stormy economic climate.

Whatever you do, when you remodel your home, keep documents of everything.  Think of each contract not as a receipt of purchase but a proof of investment.  Give a copy of what you did for the year to your accountant.  When you sell your home, have these documents on hand, you may be able to deduct these expenses from any capital gains.

* Consult your accountant to see what tax benefits you qualify for before you start a remodeling project.

Written by Imperial Kitchens and Baths Designer, Stephanie Bullwinkel, CBD.

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I Blog, Therefore I Am

September 22, 2009

I see a lot of blogs about remodeling and what is starting to come to mind are the TV commercials where someone stays at a particular hotel and that immediately makes them an expert in everything.

Blogging is a wonderful way to spread information quickly and easily, but there are no checks and balances as to who is authoring them.  Just because you write a blog does not make you an expert.

So, why would someone write about something they know nothing about?  Google has a product called AdWords.  If you want to advertise your product or service online, AdWords is an easy way to do it.  Not only can you get top listing on Google Search engine, but you can have your ads placed on other websites that are registered with Google.

If you are a blogger you can set yourself up with Google to have advertising placed on your blog.  Every time someone clicks on the ads listed, the blogger makes some money.  So to make money, the blogger writes articles on hot topics hoping to draw an audience – not to educate you and help you, but to hopeful get you to click an ad.

The downside is that many of these blogs are not only poorly written, but they give bad, and potentially damaging advice.  This is very much the case in remodeling, where DIY projects are all the rage.

Next time you are reading a blog that tells you how to do something, research the author.  Are they an expert in their field or are they just a billboard.  Most of the time these authors won’t even list their name.  If they are listed, what else has they written about?  If the topics don’t coincide, chances are they don’t know what they are talking about.

If you are looking to remodel any part of your home, get expert advise from someone in the field.

Written by Imperial Kitchens and Baths Designer, Stephanie Bullwinkel, CBD.

How Much Does a Remodel Cost?

September 16, 2009

About once to twice a week I find a blog asking “How much?”  How much is a bathroom remodel?  How much is a kitchen remodel?  How much to finish my basement?  And this is best answered with… how much is a car?

It depends.  What are you trying to achieve?  What products do you like and in what finishes?  What are you looking for in a designer or contractor?  People who are practicing their craft are often less expensive upfront than the seasoned professional.

Unlike the car industry, the remodeling industry doesn’t have factory set standards and internal quality control.  There is no government instituted lemon law for a botched remodel.  It is our hope that companies who are affiliated with professional groups like NARI and NKBA are playing by the “best practices” standards and their pricing should reflect that.  When you purchase a $10,000 car it is an economy vehicle, $30,000 is a mid range and anything above $60,000 is luxury.

My point is this; I could say a modest bathroom remodel is about $30,000.  But your bathroom is 5×7, $30,000 would be a bit luxurious… while $30,000 in a 12×20 master suite would not go far.  And to make matters even worse, your location also determines your investment figure.  People who live in New York city are going to pay a lot more for a kitchen remodel than someone who lives in Sandwich, IL.  Labor is more expensive in New York because the cost of living is higher.  Not to mention working in a high rise is more expensive than working in a home.  Just unloading tools and materials can take half a day when working in a high rise.

So, for a true idea on how much to expect your remodel to cost you, stop blogging.  Most of the people who will answer you don’t have a clue – even if they are professional remodelers, they don’t know your space.  Call a few local contractors.  Give them the same detailed description of your space and what you would like to do with it.  A veteran in this business will be able to give you ball park figure (ie. “Expect your bathroom to start at about $15,000.”)  For a more definite estimate, have them out to your home.  The Better Business Bureau recommends starting out with three bids on your project.

But you say that you don’t want to be completely in the dark before you pick up the phone.  You would rather suffer sticker shock in private.  Then the best place for a jumping off point is Remodeling Magazine.  Every November they put out an issue called “Cost vs. Value.”   This annual survey not only shows you the approximate cost of a particular remodel in your region of the US, but it will also tell you what kind of return you could see if you were to sell your home after the remodel.  You can find this information on their website: http://www.remodeling.hw.net/remodeling-market-data/remodeling-cost-vs-value-report-2008-09.aspx .

If you are improving your home with the intention to sell, remember that low-cost, low-maintenance improvements are where you are going to see the greatest return for your money.  However, most of us remodel our abodes for ourselves; it is about investing in our happiness at home.

Written by Imperial Kitchens and Baths, Inc. designer, Stephanie Bullwinkel, CBD.

Dynamic Chicago Kitchen

August 26, 2009

The current trend of dark cabinets doesn’t mean you have to have a dark kitchen.  Pair black cabinets with stainless appliances for an edgy urban look.  The space could easily be softened by using doors fronts/panels to cover the appliances and a stone tile backsplash.

Fast forward to the 4 minute mark to see the incredible space designed by Larry Rych of Imperial Kitchens and Baths. 

(Note: the fireplace surround was incorporating into the project to create a flowing space between the kitchen and family room.)

Do you ever feel that you just can’t seem to get enough hot water out of your hot water tank?  Are you ever stuck with a cold shower in the morning?  Or do you have a luxury shower with body sprays and you find your luxury only lasts for about 5 minutes?  Are you thinking that a larger hot water tank is the only answer?

Tankless hot water heaters have been very popular in Asia and Europe for many years and they are finally catching on in America.  The idea is that you only heat the water that you use as you are using it and with that theory you could have an endless supply of hot water.  Never run out of hot water again.

The number of fixtures/appliances that can operate on a tankless hot water heater varies from region to region.  In warmer climates, the cold water coming into a home isn’t as cold as it is in cold climates.  The colder the water, the more work the tankless has to do within the same period of time… the outcome, the hot water available to meet the demand is at a lower temperature.  This means, provided they have the same tankless brand and model, a home in Florida may be able to heat 5 showers at once,  while a home in Illinois may only be able to heat 2.5 showers.

Tankless hot water heaters are fueled by electric or gas.  Units that feed hot water to the whole house are typically gas.  If you are considering a tankless, be aware that depending on your average gas consumption during the coldest time if the year, you may need to increase the size of your gas meter.  Not everyone needs a tankless.  And you won’t necessarily save money with a tankless, though you may be able to take advantage of an energy tax credit (talk to your accountant).  The main reason to go tankless is to achieve comfort, if your current tank heater isn’t working for your household.

If you decide that tankless is right for you, use a certified installer  to ensure that the unit is installed correctly to keep your warrantee valid.

Written by Imperial Kitchens and Baths Designer, Stephanie Bullwinkel (CBD).  Previously published in Imperial Kitchens and Baths Newsletter Issue 1.

Reface, recover, renew, refresh – these are all words used to define a technique commonly used to update kitchen cabinets.  I prefer to use the term “recover,” since it most accurately describes the process.

A recover involves removing the old doors and drawer fronts from your existing cabinetry and replacing them with new doors of your choice, wood or laminate.  The faces of the boxes are then covered in wood veneer or laminate to match the new doors.  The cabinets themselves are rarely distrubed.  The result is a brand new look wihtout undergoing major construction.  The video below is a time-lapse of a recover in process that we did in our showroom.

Can a kitchen recover really save you money?  Yes, but not every kitchen is a candidate for a recover.  The majority of cabinets in the space must be stable and solidly constructed.  Poorly constructed cabinets are better off being replaced with new cabinets.  The layout of the kitchen needs to remain approximately the same.  Appliances and sinks will remain in their current location.

Removing a wall and/or changing the floor will not necessarily exclude a kitchen from being recovered, but it may incur some expenses that you would not necessarily have if you replaced the cabinets entirely.

Adding and replacing select cabinets to the existing layout may be a problem depending on the limits of your contractor.  This is a question you should ask when getting estimates on your project, especially is you suspect your a cabinet.  As in all remodeling projects, it is common for the less skilled laborer to charge less.  Look for longevity, ask for referrences from other “recover” clients.  Recovering cabinets is an art equal to that of a custom tailor.

If you do add cabinets to your existing layout, be prepared – the interior of the cabinets will not match the interior of the existing (as they are not part of the recover process unless specified).  But the exteriors should be a seamless design vision between old and new.

Will the savings of a recover be half of what would be spent on new cabinets?  It could that significant of a savings.  The best way to find out is to have your contractors quote the project both ways.

Is a recover truely a” green” remodeling option?  When you factor in the existing cabinets going to a land-fill, new cabinets being made from new timber, and then transporting those new cabinets in large cardboard boxes, which are mainly filled with air unless the cabinets are not ready-assembled.  Yes, it is a greener option.  Just the doors off the exisitng cabinets are going to waste and the new doors take up considerable less space on a frieght truck than cabinets.  Then add to it that several door manufacturers and laminate companies in the US are taking the “green” initiative to heart and you have something you can feel good about.  (Many cabinet companies are offering sustainable cabinetry options as well.)  However, the glues used to apply the new veneer to the cabinets can cause irritation in senesitve people.  The outgasing of these product is typically fast-occuring.

Will a recover be less of a headache than a “typical” remodel?  Since the existing cabinetry will not be removed, a lot of time is saved in carrying in and out large casework.  If the floors and walls are not distrubed then there is even less mess in your home.

While there is no reason this process can’t be used in a bathroom, it’s just not as common.  Sometimes it is actually cost prohibitive.  In the case of a single 36″ vanity, it can be less expensive, and less hassel, to just replace the whole thing.

Written by Imperial Kitchen and Baths Designer, Stephanie Bullwinkel (CBD).

Indoor Air Pollution

July 9, 2009

“Indoor air is on average seven to ten times more polluted than outdoor air.”   ~United States EPA

We try to contain indoor air as much as possible.  We pay to heat it and cool it, why would we want it leaking outside.  Newer homes, of course, are tighter than older homes.

But by limiting fresh air to enter our homes, we are in fact creating a pollution problem. 

Indoor air pollution comes from a variety of places: radon from the ground leaching into our basements, formaldehyde out-gassing from furniture and carpet, particulates from the breaking down of biological matter, and gasses from household cleaners and chemicals—not to mention odors and moisture that encourages mold and mildew growth. When we limit the passage of air between the indoors and outdoors we are harboring these contaminants.

Vents in the kitchen and bath are excellent at expelling odors and moisture to the outdoors.  When running, they are also removing indoor pollutants.  This exchange of air is very healthy for your home and for you.

When air in your home exits through a vent, replacement air needs to be available to make up what is lost.  This make-up air can come from an open window, leaky doors, down-drafting of a chimney or a recovery system specifically put in place to exchange household air. If your home is well sealed, you may find the operation of your vent fan disappointing.  If replacement air is not available, a vent fan will starve for air.  Not only will it not perform well, but it may prematurely age the motor.

A vent  will also under perform if it is not clean.  We recommend vacuuming your bathroom vent fan when cleaning.  In the kitchen, clean or replace your grease filters often.  These filters are in place to keep grease from building up in the ducts in your walls.

Panasonic WhisperGreen Vent Fan

Panasonic WhisperGreen Vent Fan

Determining what size vent you need for your application can be a complex calculation that takes into account not only the size of the room but also the length of the ductwork for your vent.  Vents are sized by “cfm” (cubic feet per minute).  For example, this simply means if you purchase a 100 cfm bathroom vent fan, this fan will replace 100 cubic feet of air per minute.

There is a caveat however, and this lies in your walls or your ceiling.  The material, length and twists and turns that your vent ductwork takes as it sends the expelled air to the outside will have an effect on the efficiency of your vent motor.  If the complete venting system is not accounted for correctly, you could find your 100 cfm vent fan only pulling 40 to 60 cfm – and if you don’t have adequate makeup air to replace what is being expelled that number gets even lower.

The manufacturer’s website and paperwork that comes with your vent fan should help you with your calculations to insure a proper installation.  There are other independant websites that offer the formulas as well.  If in doubt, hire a professional to assess the size of the room and what it will take to properly get the air to the outside.

The other important factor when buying a vent fan is “sones.”  Sones rate how loud a fan is, the lower the sone – the quieter.  However, lower sones also usually equate to a higher price tag.  It may be worth the extra money however if you will be running the fan often or if you have sensitive hearing.

Fresh air in your home not only smells better, but is healthier for you too.  We all have experienced dank air from time to time, but if you are experiencing chronic issues with dank, musty or smelly air for which you cannot pinpoint a source, it may be a sign of a larger problem and an appointment should be made with a remodeling specialist.

Selections from this article will appear in Imperial Kitchens and Baths next newsletter mailing.

Written By Imperial Kitchens and Baths Designer, Stephanie Bullwinkel (CBD).