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By Carol Duran | Broker in Chicago, IL
  • Easy DIY Weekend Projects

    Posted Under: Remodel & Renovate in Chicago, Design & Decor in Chicago, How To... in Chicago  |  May 15, 2014 6:08 AM  |  345 views  |  No comments

    Just another weekend? Not if you take advantage with one or more of these 5 great projects you can easily pull off for under $300.

    Most of the cost of these DIY weekend projects is in the materials. The labor — that’s you — is free. All you need now are the hours. But, hey, you’ve got two full days — plenty of time to be a superhero weekend warrior and grab some R&R.

    Project #1: Add a garden arbor entry.

    The setup: Install an eye-catching portal to your garden with a freestanding arbor. It’ll look great at the end of a garden path or framing a grassy area between planting beds.

    Specs and cost: Garden arbors can be priced up to thousands of dollars, but you can find nice-looking kits in redwood, cedar, and vinyl at your local home improvement or garden center for $200-$300. Typical sizes are about 7 feet high and 3-4 feet wide. You’ll have to assemble the kit yourself.

    Screwdriver; cordless drill/driver; hammer; tape measure. Kits come pre-cut and pre-drilled for easy assembly, and usually include screws. If fasteners aren’t included, check the materials list before you leave the store.

    Time: 3-5 hours

    Project #2: Install a window awning.

    The setup: Summer is super, but too much sunlight from south- and west-facing windows can heat up your interiors and make your AC work overtime. Beat that heat and save energy by using an awning to stop harsh sunlight before it enters your house.

    Specs and cost: Residential awnings come in many sizes and colors. Some are plastic or aluminum, but most are made with weatherproof fabrics. They’re engineered for wind resistance, and some are retractable. A 4-foot-wide awning with a 2.5-foot projection is $150-$250.

    Tools: Cordless drill/driver; adjustable wrench; tape measure; level. You can install an awning on any siding surface, but you’ll need a hammer drill to drill holes in brick. To prevent leaks, fill any drilled holes with silicone sealant before you install screws and bolts.

    : 3-4 hours


    Project # 3: Screen off your air conditioner from view.

    The setup: Air conditioning is great, but air conditioner condensers are ugly. Up your curb appeal quotient by hiding your AC condenser or heat pump unit with a simple screen.

    Specs and costs: An AC screen is typically 3-sided, about 40 inches high, and freestanding — you’ll want to be able to move it easily when it comes time to service your HVAC. For about $100, you can make a screen yourself using weather-resistant cedar or pressure-treated wood to build 3 frames, and filling each frame with plastic or pressure-treated lattice.

    Or, buy pre-made fencing panels. A 38-by-38-inch plastic fencing panel is about $50.

    Tools: Hammer; saw; cordless drill/driver; measuring tape; galvanized wood screws.

    Time: Build it yourself in 4-6 hours. Install pre-made fencing in 1-2 hours.

    Project # 4: Add garage storage.

    The setup: Shopping for garage storage solutions is definitely a kid-in-the-candy-store experience. There are so many cool shelves, hooks, and hangers available that you’ll need to prioritize your needs. Take stock of long-handled landscape tools, bikes, paint supplies, ladders, and odd ducks, such as that kayak. Measure your available space so you’ll have a rough idea of where everything goes.

    Specs and cost: Set your under-$300 budget, grab a cart, and get shopping. Many storage systems are made to be hung on drywall, but hooks and heavy items should be fastened directly to studs. Use a stud finder ($20) to locate solid framing.
    If your garage is unfinished, add strips of wood horizontally across studs so you’ll have something to fasten your storage goodies to. An 8-foot-long 2-by-4 is about $2.50.

    Tools: Cordless drill/driver; hammer; level; measuring tape; screws and nails.

    Time: This is a simple project, but not a fast one. Figure 6-10 hours to get everything where you want it, plus shopping. But, oh the fun in putting everything in its place!


    Project #5: Edging your garden.

    The setup: Edging is a great way to define your planting beds, corral garden mulch, and to separate your lawn from your garden or patio.

    Specs and cost: Wood and metal edging looks like tiny fencing; they’re 4-6 inches high. Some include spikes that hold the edging in position; other types must be partially buried. Cost is $1-$5 per foot.

    Plastic edging can be molded and colored to mimic brick, wood, and stone. About $20 for 10 feet.

    Concrete edging blocks are smooth, or textured to resemble stone. $15-$25 for 10 feet.

    Real stone edging is installed flush with the surrounding grade in a shallow trench on a bed of sand, so digging is required. Stone is sold by the ton and prices vary by region. You’ll need about one-third of a ton of flagstone to make an 8-inch-wide edging 50 feet long, costing $150-$200.

    Tools: Shovel; wheelbarrow; tin snips (for cutting plastic edging); work gloves.

    Time: Pre-made edging will take 2-3 hours for 50 feet; stone will take 6-10 hours.

  • 15-Minute Home Makeovers

    Posted Under: Remodel & Renovate in Chicago, Design & Decor in Chicago, How To... in Chicago  |  April 16, 2014 6:10 PM  |  376 views  |  No comments

    1. Switch the plates. Upgrade your drab, plastic switch plates with snazzy covers that match or accent your décor. Even the most expensive brass switch plates cost less than $20 each.

    Or, spend a buck for a plastic plate and decorate it yourself. Use craft paint, or cover the plate with decorative paper.

    You also can switch outlet covers, but don’t get too fancy. Outlet covers should blend with the wall.

    2. Touch-up boo-boos. A bit of new paint gives any room a fresh face, which is why you should keep extra color-matched paint after you remodel. Touch up banged-up baseboards, door and window trim, and wall marks that won’t wash away. Even spot painting requires care; use a drop cloth to protect other surfaces.

    3. Change out drawer and door hardware. Upgrade your kitchen or bathroom by installing new pulls and knobs. Be sure to measure drawer pulls so you won’t have to drill new holes. Check out these cute and economical ($4.95 for 8) zoo dresser drawer knobs on Esty. Home improvement centers have a large selection of inexpensive pulls and knobs.

    4. Update your mailbox. Bump up curb appeal by spray-painting your old mailbox. You can freshen the same color, or go wild with bright hues. Don’t forget to scrub off dirt and rust before painting with rust-proof paint ($6-$12 for a 10-oz. can; lots of decorative textures and colors).

    5. Play the numbers game. Decorative house numbers and plates give your home a custom and classy look. Some numbers are quick peel-and-stick affairs; others you’ll have to screw in. They’re made of wood, plastic, brass, stainless steel, and other materials; $6 to $30 each.

    6. Embellish your throne. A new toilet seat gives you a regal bearing. Plastic and enameled seats ($12-$25) in a rainbow of colors add a dash of panache; a solid wood mahogany or walnut seat ($45-$60) makes an executive statement; cushioned seats ($15-$20) won’t make a lasting impression — and that’s a good thing.

    7. Declutter. You’ll be amazed how a 15-minute daily declutter can make a room look like new. First, get rid of stuff from your fridge door: that large, blank canvas will immediately brighten your kitchen. Corral mail and papers in decorative boxes with tops that can close and hide the mess. Organize school supplies in caddies. Every day, tame a new spot.

  • Matching Room Color and Lighting to Get the Effect You Desire

    Posted Under: Remodel & Renovate in Chicago, Design & Decor in Chicago, How To... in Chicago  |  February 19, 2014 6:37 AM  |  332 views  |  No comments

    It’s all determined by the way light and colors interact.

    “People have to understand that the color of an object won’t look the same 24 hours a day,” says lighting designer Joseph Rey-Barreau. “I just had bamboo flooring installed throughout my house, and during the day it looks totally different than it looks at night.”

    The way we “see” color primarily depends on two things:

    1.  The light that an object absorbs. Black absorbs all colors; white absorbs none; blue absorbs red.

    2.  How the light source works. Natural light (sunlight) changes throughout the day and is affected by a room’s location. Artificial light changes with the type of bulb you use.

    How Sunlight Affects Colors

    As the amount and angle of the sun changes, so will your room colors.

    “Natural light should always be considered when choosing color for a space,” says Sarah Cole of the Farrow & Ball paint company.

    North-facing rooms:
    Light in these rooms is cool and bluish. Bolder colors show up better than muted colors; lighter colors will look subdued. “Use strong colors and embrace what nature has given,” says Cole.

    South-facing rooms: Lots of high-in-the-sky light brings out the best in cool and warm colors. Dark colors will look brighter; lighter colors will virtually glow.

    East-facing rooms: East light is warm and yellowy before noon, then turns bluer later in the day. These are great rooms for reds, oranges and yellows.

    West-facing rooms: Evening light in these rooms is beautiful and warm, while scant morning light can produce shadows and make colors look dull.

    How Light Bulbs Affect Color

    The type of bulb you use can alter the colors in a room, too.

    Incandescents: The warm, yellow-amber light of these bulbs will make reds, oranges, and yellows more vivid, while muting blues and greens.

    Fluorescents: This flat and cool light enriches blues and greens.

    Halogens: These white lights resemble natural light and make all colors look more vivid. Using halogens would make the shift from daylight to artificial light less jarring.

    Compact fluorescent lights (CFLs): CFLs can produce either a warm white, neutral, or bluish-white light.

    Light-emitting diodes (LEDs):
      You can buy warmer or cooler LEDs, and even “smart” LED bulbs whose color you can control wirelessly. “You can point to the color of the sky in a picture at sunset and make the light bulb in the house be that same color,” says Rey-Barreau.

    Related: The Latest In Lighting Trends to Enhance Your Home
    Tips for Achieving the Color You Want

    • Paint squares of primed drywall with samples of the colors you’re considering, and then move them around the room during the day. Apply at least two coats.
    • Evaluate samples of carpet during different daylight conditions.
    • Most contractors won’t hang lights before you paint, but you can get a color approximation by placing a bulb you’ll be using in a floor or desk lamp. If you’re hyper-sensitive to color or want a very specific look, ask your electrician to hang the lights, then cover them carefully during painting.
    • Remember that natural and artificial light will work together during certain times of day, especially in summer when dusk lasts a long time. Turn on artificial lights even during daylight to see what your colors will look like.
    • Paint sheen also affects color. Glossy finishes will reflect light and change the way the color looks, whereas flat finishes are less reflective and allow colors to look truer under bright light.
    • Light-colored walls can reflect the colors of bold carpets: A bright blue rug, for instance, can cast a bluish tone on a white wall.


    Lighting Isn’t Cheap: Here’s How to Do It Right

    Choosing the Right Light Bulb

  • How to Make Sure Your Fireplace is Safe

    Posted Under: Design & Decor in Chicago, How To... in Chicago, Home Ownership in Chicago  |  November 20, 2013 8:23 AM  |  542 views  |  No comments

    Checking From the Outside

    Examine the chimney to make sure a chimney cap is present and in good repair. The metal cap keeps animals, rain, and snow out of the chimney, while acting as a spark arrester that prevents hot embers from landing on your roofing.
    If you have a multi-story home or a steep roof, play it safe and use a pair of binoculars to check the chimney cap from the ground.

    While you’re at it, make sure:

    • There’s no bird nest or debris buildup on the cap.
    • There are no tree limbs above or near the chimney.
    • The mortar and bricks on the chimney aren’t crumbling or missing.
    • The chimney rises at least 2 feet above where it exits the roof.
    • The chimney crown -- the sloping cement shoulders at the top of the chimney -- is beveled, which helps air flow.
    • The flue liner is visible above the chimney crown.
    • The chimney is plumb and not leaning to one side or the other.
    • The roof flashing is tight against the chimney.

    If you spot anything amiss, call a licensed chimney professional or mason to remedy the problem. For pricey jobs, make sure to get a second estimate.

    Looking Inside Your Home

    With a flashlight, inspect the flue damper to make sure it opens, closes, and seals properly.

    “If the damper doesn't seal well, you’ll lose a tremendous amount of heat from the home when the fireplace isn’t in use,” explains Gary Spolar, a licensed sweep and owner of Century Chimney in northeast Ohio.

    With the damper open, check the flue for combustible material such as animal nests or other foreign objects. You should be able to see daylight at the top.

    Inspect the fireplace surround, hearth, and firebox to make sure there are no cracked bricks or missing mortar. Damage inside the firebox is serious -- have a professional fireplace and chimney inspection. An inspection costs $79-$500.

    Also, check for obvious signs of moisture inside the firebox, which could mean a faulty cap.

    Inspecting a Gas-Burning Fireplace

    We enjoy gas fireplaces because they’re low-maintenance -- but that doesn't mean they’re no-maintenance. You should:

    • Inspect the glass doors for cracks or latch issues.
    • Check that gas logs are in the proper position.
    • Turn gas off at the shut-off valve and test the igniter.
    • Ignite the fire and look for clogged burner holes. If present, turn off gas and clear obstructions with a pin or needle.


    Ideas to Revitalize Your Fireplace

    How to Clean Your Fireplace

  • Saving Energy with a Wood-Burning Fireplace Insert

    Posted Under: Going Green in Chicago, Design & Decor in Chicago, How To... in Chicago  |  November 6, 2013 8:22 AM  |  444 views  |  2 comments

    An insert is a cast iron or steel box that fits inside your existing masonry fireplace opening. In essence, making it work much like a wood-burning stove.

    A decorative flange fits around the outside edges so that no gaps appear between the unit and the sides of the fireplace. You’ll be required to install a chimney liner to carry combustion gases and smoke up through your chimney.

    Fireplace inserts have clear, heat-proof glass doors. The best designs circulate air within the firebox in a way that helps keep the glass clean.

    Inserts heat 1,000-3,000 sq. ft., depending on their size. You’ll want to size your insert to the square footage you need to heat.

    Cost: $3,000-$4,000, including installation and a chimney liner.

    How Much Energy Do Inserts Save?

    You’ll cut your other heating costs by 10%-40% with an insert.

    Because of the enclosed design, an insert increases the efficiency of burning wood, helping you extract the most heat for the least cost.

    Most wood-burning inserts also include a fan to circulate the warm air around the firebox back into the room for even more efficiency.

    Improvements in the designs of wood-burning fireplace inserts over the past few years mean almost all new units now meet the guidelines for fuel efficiency set by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of 60%-80%.

    Related: Fireplace Inserts That Use Pellets Instead of Wood

    3 Other Advantages of an Insert

    1.  They can burn for three to five hours before you need to add wood.

    2.  Firewood is an economical fuel in many regions, costing just $922/year to heat a typical home when the wood is burned efficiently. If you cut the wood yourself, it might even be free. If you buy, you support local jobs.

    3.  Efficient combustion reduces the amount of noxious gases and particulates produced by an open fireplace.


    Ideas to Revive a Tired Fireplace

    Energy-Efficient Fireplace Options

  • How to Choose Stock Kitchen Cabinets

    Posted Under: Remodel & Renovate in Chicago, Design & Decor in Chicago, How To... in Chicago  |  October 9, 2013 5:36 AM  |  314 views  |  1 comment

    Stock cabinets save you time because you don’t have to wait for them to be built. And they save you money because you aren’t paying for customizations.

    But that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice quality. You just need to know what to look for.

    What to Look For

    • Solid wood and plywood cabinets. They’ll give you better longevity and crisper details than pressed wood.
    • Walls at least ½-inch thick. They're more sturdy.
    • Consistency of finish. Lesser quality cabinets often have irregular finishes and colors from one cabinet box to the next.
    • Full-extension hardware. It allows you to open drawers all the way and open doors almost 180 degrees to make access easier.
    • Dovetail joinery. Or a metal box. Drawer sides and backs that are stapled together won’t last as long.

    Cost and Installation

    The cost of quality stock cabinets for an average-sized kitchen generally runs $8,000 to $10,000. Semi-custom cabinets would cost about twice that. And full custom cabinets would cost even more.

    There are some lower-cost stock alternatives, such as IKEA (as low as $2,500), but you’ll offset your savings with the hassle of difficult assembly — fine if you have the patience and skill.

    But unless you’ve got professional building experience, actually installing kitchen cabinets isn’t a typical DIY job.

    So carve out $100 to $300 per cabinet (depending on labor rates in your area) to have them professionally installed.

    The Drawbacks of Stock Cabinets

    • Finish and color choices are limited. The most likely options are painted white, natural wood, or stained maple and cherry.
    • Stock cabinets are only 36 inches tall. If you want taller cabinets, you’ll have to go semi-custom, which can take you up to 42 inches.
    • You could lose potential storage space. Filler strips are used to cover gaps created when the stock sizes don’t quite fill the space — whereas custom cabinets can be measured to take advantage of all space.
    • Extra details such as crown molding aren’t included. Mitered corners and furniture-style sides aren’t included either. However, you can add crown molding yourself later if you choose.
    • Warranties are limited. The industry standard is about 5 years, and they only cover product failure, not wear and tear.

    Note: You’ll also need to choose hardware. But that can be a fun project to really personalize your kitchen.

    Get more tips on planning a kitchen remodel.

  • Tips From a Designer Who Specializes in Small Baths

    Posted Under: Remodel & Renovate in Chicago, Design & Decor in Chicago, How To... in Chicago  |  September 25, 2013 4:46 PM  |  420 views  |  No comments

    Got a small bathroom to renovate? Go wild with texture and colors if it’s a rarely used guest bath, but stick to clean and simple in a master bath.

    That’s the word from designer Jamie Gibbs, who transforms incredibly small New York City bathrooms into beautiful spaces. “I liked being shocked by details in a little space, especially if it’s not going to be used much,” Gibbs says.

    His small-bath secrets:

    1. Avoid textures in bathrooms that get daily use. In a heavily used bathroom, anything with texture becomes a collection spot for mold, mildew, and toothpaste. Say no to carved vessel sinks or floor tile with indentations.

    2. Be careful with no-enclosure showers with drains right in the floor. These Euro showers allow for a feeling of openness, but the average American contractor doesn’t know how to waterproof the floor for them, Gibbs says. The tile seals can be compromised if not installed correctly, causing the materials to decompose, and water to leak underneath.

    3. Use opaque windows and skylights to let light filter into all parts of the bath. A long skinny window with frosted glass means you don't have to burn high-wattage light bulbs. Make sure water condensation will roll off the window into an appropriate place (i.e. not the framing or the wall) to avoid future maintenance issues.

    4. Look for fixtures that have a single handle rather than separate hot and cold taps. “Space-saving gearshift faucets are a very good choice in small bathrooms,” says Gibbs. You’ll also save money by not having to drill holes in the countertop for the hot and cold taps.

    5. Save space with wall-mounted toilets and bidets, but be aware that the water tank goes into the wall. That’s fine if space is such a premium that you won’t mind going into the wall to make any repairs. But if you share a wall with a neighbor, that's a different issue.

    6. Use a wall-mount faucet to make a reduced-depth vanity work in a small space. “I can get away with a 22” vanity instead of a 24” vanity with a wall mount faucet,” Gibbs says.

    7. Check the space between the handles and the faucet of any space-saving fixtures. “If you can only get a toothbrush in it to clean, you'll save space, but it’s functionally stupid,” Gibbs says. Make sure the sink is functional, too. If you’re using a vessel sink, make sure it’s large enough and not too high. “If it’s too high, you'll knock it so many times that the fittings will come loose,” Gibbs says.

    8. A pedestal sink is all form and no function. “It’s a great-looking sink, but there’s no place to [set] anything,” Gibbs says.

    9. Wall-mounted vanities seem like they’re space savers, but they create dead space between the vanity and the floor — a space that often accumulates junk and never gets cleaned.

    10. If you're comfortable with it, go European and put up a glass walls between the bathroom and bedroom to create the illusion of space. Or put bathroom fixtures in the bedroom just outside the bath.

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