Home Improvement Projects for Winter…

5 home improvement projects guaranteed to cure the winter blues

If you’re dreading the long months of cold weather ahead and the thought of being stuck inside, consider curing cabin fever with some fun, easy and rewarding home improvement projects.

When choosing projects to tackle first, Brian Bolger, Lead Contractor with Bolger Design & Remodeling in Mechanicsburg suggests focusing on ones that will increase your property value, save money on your utility bills, and, of course, add a smile to your face. Here are five ideas to get you started.

1. Create walls that wow

Since you're stuck inside staring at the walls, why not give them a new look. Adding modern trim work, crown molding and a bold coat of paint can completely change the look of a room without the expense of doing a complete renovation, Bolger said.

“Contrary to what many homeowners might believe, you can use paint in your home without opening up every window as long it’s an environmentally friendly and waterborne paint, which has virtually no fumes,” he said. “Plus, the dryness of the colder months can actually produce faster results.”

To really add visual interest to your walls, homeowners could go with a new or dramatic paint color or use painter’s tape to create stripes or patterns. A winter project Bolger and his wife are actually getting ready to do is hang wallpaper in their bedroom.

“Wallpaper is making a bit of a comeback thanks to home improvement shows,” Bolger said. “It can definitely be a do-it-yourself project or you can get professionals to do it. My wife and I have hung it before in other rooms, so we have some experience on our side.”

“Replacing interior doors is an affordable way to give your home an updated look versus an expensive remodel,” said Ken Shuman with B&B’s Custom Trim

Bolger also works on a lot of custom trim and crown molding projects which he said for an investment of between $500 and $800 dollars, can make all the difference in the world in bringing some life back into a room. A popular trend right now he said is replacing typical baseboard with ones that are at least five inches wide.

2. Add a “splash” of personality to your kitchen

For homeowners looking to spice up their kitchen without spending a pretty penny, adding a backsplash is a great solution, not to mention the perfect project for a cold winter weekend.

“For several hundred dollars you can completely change the look of your kitchen, as well as customize it to fit your personality,” said Clark Shindel, an at-home service specialist at The Home Depot in Mechanicsburg. “Our free do-it-yourself backsplash and tile workshops are our most popular classes.”

Just a few years ago The Home Depot had only about 40 tiles to choose from. Today, the store has more than 400 different styles and sizes, ranging from classic subway tile to natural stone to metal. While adding more functionality to a kitchen, a backsplash can also help accessorize and emphasize countertops, cabinets and appliances.

“Installation is a relatively simple process, but it is very tedious and time intensive,” said Shindel, who recommends making it a weekend project. “We offer products like theSimple Mat and peel and stick tiles that save time and eliminate a lot of the mess.”

Two pitfalls he warns do-it-yourselfers about are not taking the time to prep and lay out a template which can result in irregular lines or spaces. And not cleaning off the grout completely, which once dry can result in a nasty haze that is almost impossible to get off.

In addition to free tile classes, The Home Depot does offer backsplash installation services for those homeowners not quite daring enough to tackle it themselves.

3. Lighten up your rooms

What better way to brighten and warm your spirits this winter than with new lights, lamps or ceiling fans. Not to mention it’s an easy and affordable way to update the style of any room.

“We get a lot of customers during the winter who are shopping for new lights to get ready for the holidays or to accent kitchen and bathroom renovations,” said Charlotte Couch, showroom manager at Yale Lighting Concepts & Design in Swatara Township. “They are also looking to save on their energy bill with ceiling fans which push heat back down.”

LED-style lights, which come in contemporary and bold styles, also provide a money-saving option. Installing dimmers in areas like the family room or dining room saves money, while allowing homeowners to customize the ambiance.

In addition to pendant lighting, another style that is growing in popularity, said Couch, is Steampunk, which is a cross between vintage and industrial designs. But for a softer more romantic feel, a crystal chandelier is still a timeless choice.

“When it comes to installation and dealing with electrical issues my advice is to hire a professional so you know it’s done right,” Couch said. “Especially with ceiling fans, you want to be sure they aren’t loose or wobbly.”

4. Turn dull doors into classy decor

With home improvement projects, sometimes it’s the things that are used the most that are noticed the least. Like all the doors in your home — in and out of rooms, to closets and utility rooms. But after a closer look, the scratches, cracks, old hinges and outdated style can be hard to miss.

“Replacing interior doors is an affordable way to give your home an updated look versus an expensive remodel,” said Ken Shuman, salesman and estimator B&B’s Custom Trim Inc. in Rapho Township. “Most of the homeowners that come to us are looking for doors that have a unique or more modern look than what they have.”

According to Shuman, there are a lot of options that many people might not even think about. For example, double doors are a much more functional and attractive alternative to sliding doors and bi-fold doors, while French-style doors can add natural light and architectural detail to a space.

“A big thing with customers right now is not so much the door, but the hardware,” Shuman said. “Homeowners are choosing update hinges and doorknobs with more modern colors like brushed nickel or aged bronze.”

While installing interior doors can be a job for do-it-yourselfers, Shuman pointed out that it can quickly turn into a bigger job than expected, especially when replacing doors in older homes.

“Most doors are not going to just fall into place,” Shuman said. “The jobs we do involve cutting, trimming and shaping the door to size, and sometimes replacing the molding.”

Shuman’s advice to homeowners looking to replace interior doors is for them to do their homework, know their budget, and have an idea of what they like.

5. Take your bathroom from drab to fab

There’s no better time than the winter to turn your boring bathroom into a spa retreat. While replacing a faucet, re-grouting tile, or repainting are relatively easy for the do-it-yourselfer, more ambitious jobs like replacing the tub or adding tile floor might be better left to a professional.

While a complete remodel might be a bigger investment, it’s worth considering, said Charles Cornelius, owner of Chazz’ Home Improvement in Mifflin Township

“Many older homes were not built using mold-resistant drywall, so if you’re going to make an investment in upgrading your bathroom, that’s one of the best places to start,” he said. “Knowing what’s going on behind the walls is important before making expensive updates.”

According to Cornelius, there is also a lot of plumbing involved with replacing bathtubs, sinks and toilets, which requires an expert to ensure it’s done right. Once the walls are closed up, a small leak can go unnoticed for a long time, resulting in serious damage and possibly a complete remodel.

“My philosophy is that if you’re going to invest in a project, do it right the first time,” he said.



El Dorado slow-growth advocates fight new development projects

Wave of new El Dorado development projects fuels fight with slow-growth advocates


Published: Friday, Aug. 9, 2013 – 5:37 pm
Last Modified: Monday, Aug. 12, 2013 – 8:46 am

In the county that brought the Gold Rush, surging with newcomers and rough-hewn mining camps, prospects of another boom are unnerving the modern-day populace.

Amid an improving real estate economy, developers are proposing nearly 7,000 new houses for the western slope of El Dorado County.

The new wave of potential major projects is emerging after a 2004 county general plan that promised to preserve the county's rural character while anticipating up to 21,000 additional houses.

In a region renowned for perhaps the most bitter growth battles in the lower Sierra Nevada,current residents are pushing back. Where miners once ravaged land for gold, determined homeowners are digging in for a protracted political fight to protect rustic lifestyles from new people, more houses and increased traffic.

Slow-growth advocates are now threatening a 2014 vote to limit new construction.

"We are shaking our heads and saying there is no way these can fly," said Bill Center, an environmental activist and former county supervisor.

The last time the county pondered such a development surge – approving ongoing projects that are bringing 11,000 new houses to El Dorado Hills – voters revolted by passing Measure Y in 1998. It prohibited any residential project of five or more units that caused or worsened traffic gridlock during peak commuting hours. Voters reaffirmed a follow-up measure 10 years later.

Wary of resistance, major investors, including the developer of the upscale Serrano community in El Dorado Hills, are now promising nature-friendly "agri-suburbia" residential projects.

They pledge to respect oak woodlands, wildlife passageways and local traditions of winemaking and apple growing while paying for new roads and building the future of El Dorado County.

In the biggest project, Parker Development Co., the Serrano developer, is seeking to build 3,236 homes and townhouses, a shopping center and an outdoor pavilion amid oak trees, a quarry lake and rusted iron remnants of a turn-of-the-century limestone mine.

Another development firm, tied to the Gallo winemaking family, is planning 800 houses nearby. The two projects pledge to set aside 640 acres for a regional park, more than half the size of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.

"We're going to present the Board of Supervisors with a first-class plan," said Bill Parker, president of Parker Development, who expects a vote next summer. "We hope they realize there is no more logical piece of land to develop than Marble Valley."

In this corner of El Dorado County's growth politics, Thomas Howard, Parker Development's vice president of construction, leads a tour in a picturesque valley, past limestone outcroppings and golden, tree-shaded vistas.

He describes a future gateway road to a residential community – with wine grapes to be planted on roadsides and the center median – and a winery and bed-and-breakfast cottages to be built in grasslands ahead. "Everybody who lives in this community will be able to say, 'I own a winery,' " Howard says.

A few miles higher in the foothills, a line of hand-painted roadside signs screams in urgency over another proposed subdivision called San Stino.

On Mother Lode Drive, amid country houses and roadside farms, a sign reads, "HELP US." Three more follow: "Stop." "1,045." "Houses."

At their nearby "dream house" with a wine cellar and a balcony offering spectacular views of their 10-acre parcel, Kristine and Greg Killeen look out and fear the future.

"Oh I hate it," says Kristine Killeen, gazing to the back of their property and the boundary of the planned 645-acre San Stino development. "Too many cars, too many people. They're going to double the population of Shingle Springs."

Greg Killeen said the subdivision construction would disrupt what the couple felt they were promised eight years ago when they moved to the area from San Jose: a quiet life amid large acreage properties.

Next-door neighbor Walt LaFranchi, who moved his family there from San Francisco in 1990, says, "I would say, 'No San Stino' and, literally, 'Not in My Backyard.'

"Why is this development leapfrogging El Dorado Hills and Cameron Park and going right into the heart of Shingle Springs?"

The San Stino property, between French Creek and Old French Town roads, is zoned for houses on 5-acre parcels. But the community designation says developers may seek approval from the county for higher-density construction there.

Attorney Joel Korotkin, a partner in the San Stino project, argued the development is thoughtfully planned – with suburban houses on clustered lots to set aside 40 percent of the land as open space.

"This represents a progressive idea of developing the land," said Korotkin, who says he's hoping to address neighbors' concerns. "You stay off slopes. You preserve the tree cover and the wetlands. You try what you can do to fit in."

El Dorado County, which topped 20,000 residents in 1850, two years after James Marshalldiscovered gold in Coloma, didn't surpass 30,000 people until after 1960. But since 1980, it has more than doubled in population to over 180,000.

Real estate market forecasts suggest nearly 12,000 homes could be built in El Dorado County over the next two decades. And just across the border with Sacramento County, Folsom is planning to add 10,000 houses south of Highway 50, adding to potential regional congestion.

"We need to have balanced growth," said Supervisor Ron Mikulaco of El Dorado Hills, who says he also worries about development drying up water supplies. "But I'm not hearing people say shut the gate behind us. I hear people say, 'We've got to be smart.' "

The six-county Sacramento Area Council of Governments has adopted regional planning principles that recommend managing new growth with "sustainable communities" that protect open space and are close to transportation and other amenities.

One project included in the SACOG regional plan is the Marble Valley custom home, townhouse and residential development in El Dorado Hills. SACOG Chief Executive Mike McKeever said it meets the agency's "blueprint principles," including diverse housing types and "preserving natural resources."

Center says the Marble Valley plan reflects an "urbanist perspective" that is "appropriate for midtown Sacramento." But he calls it a disaster for El Dorado County that would gridlock Highway 50.

Similar sentiments are being voiced on other projects as residents are creating anti-development Facebook pages, rallying neighbors and giving fits to would-be builders.

"We're going to see a lot of pressure on politicians when they get hit with 500 emails," said Craig Sandberg, an attorney for Tilden Park, a proposed hotel, commercial and residential development near Highway 50 that is also drawing the ire of residents in Shingle Springs. "Social media has made it a whole new world."

It was the San Stino project, one of the first of the proposed developments to go before county planners, that particularly revealed residents' growth-averse pulse.

Heeding neighbors' protests, supervisors refused to approve a county contract for an environmental study for the project – even though the developer was to pick up the costs.

Korotkin, who says he is continuing to work to win support for San Stino, said he went ahead and hired a consultant to prepare the document.

His development group is also seeking approval to build 605 houses south of Green Valley Road in El Dorado Hills. That project – Dixon Ranch – faces resistance from a neighbors' group called the Green Valley Alliance.

Another project by Parker Development – which would build a total of 1,028 homes on the former El Dorado Hills Golf Course and a second site – is also stirring controversy.

"It has conjured up all the warring factions," said Board of Supervisors Chairman Ron Briggs, who was elected in 2006 on a platform of keeping the county rural.

Briggs said supervisors are going to have to face major decisions on the county's future over the next two years.

Seeking consensus, Briggs is trying to keep the developers talking with the "no (traffic) gridlock people" who passed Measure Y. He also says he wants to include voices of the "new element" – recent residents who bought homes expecting newfound rural lifestyles to be preserved.

"They say they want economic growth and sane development, but just don't do it here," Briggs said.