3 Things to Consider for Your Next Building Project

When building a new home, adding on an extension, or even just a simple remodel within your home, you should always consider your local environment to maximize the efficiency of every aspect of your project.

There are three main areas that need to be focused on when planning your building project. They include:

  1. Water
  2. Energy
  3. Building Materials

Each of these areas contain specific products and methods that can really benefit your home lifestyle and increase the equity in your house too.

The first area to cover is water, which may or may not be relevant to your project. However, if there is plumbing, or an outside wall where gutters can be fixed, the optimal water conservation methods should be utilized where possible. There are many interior products that can really help to reduce water wastage and improve efficiency which include:


- water saving taps
- water efficient showerheads
- composting toilets
- water diverters (diverters which hold the water while the hot water reaches your tap to save wasting all that water whilst waiting for the hot water to arrive)

Furthermore, by installing a Greywater system you can use all the water that usually runs down your drain, on your garden or lawn.

For the exterior, high quality gutters and water storage devices such as water tanks are ideal for harvesting hundreds of litres of water that can be used for a variety of applications.

A strong water budget mixed with an overall highly efficient water system can save you heaps of money on water bills and reduce the impact on your local catchment system.

The second part of this article focuses on energy. Most people immediately think solar and then think "I can't afford it!" but there is much more that can be done to improve the efficiency of the energy usage in your home.

If you are doing large scale renovations, the position of your home / room in regards to sun direction is vitally important. A north-south facing house is much more energy efficient in terms of temperature control as the sun has less direct focus on the rooms.

Many different products exist to generate energy or improve the energy usage and overall efficiency of your home. Some of these include:

- a solar panel system: either stand alone, grid connect, or hybrid with wind turbines to generate electricity
- high-quality insulation, including batts and foil boards
- solar hot water systems
- ventilation and extraction fans
- energy-efficient windows (dual-pane, low-e, argon gas)

- lighting, including CFL's (compact fluorescent lamp)
- hydronic heating
- air conditioners with inverter technology

All of these products will either generate free electricity, use much less energy than other products on the market, or control the temperature of your home to save on running costs to maintain comfort.

Building materials are another important consideration when starting your project. Many materials have good qualities, while others can contain harmful chemicals which can be dangerous for your health. Knowing all these risks is almost impossible, but there are certain things to look for when making these decisions.

- Use as much untreated materials as possible. Most treated materials use very harsh chemicals which contain volatile organic compounds (VOC's) and formaldehyde. Over time, these compounds break down and become part of your indoor breathing space.
- These VOC's can also be found in conventional paints and finishes. Always ask your supplier for brands which use little or no VOC's in their products.
- Concrete that contains high levels of flyash are much better for the environment and lower the use of the toxic concrete powder in construction
- Conventional termite control utilizes the harshest of all chemicals and can be extremely carcinogenic. However, there are many new products that can remove termite problems without the use of harmful chemicals. Always ask your provider about their environmental policy and research the chemical they use
- Many insulation companies still use the resin based fiberglass insulation which contains high levels of formaldehyde and are damaging to your health. Look for insulation that is glass wool or made from cellulose fibre is your best bet for your families health and the environments.
- Double glazed windows and the utilization of roller shades, solar shades, and blinds is the best way to reduce heat build up within your home.
- Strawbale and compressed earth homes are becoming more and more popular due to their constant interior comfort levels, and no, they don't look like "mud huts".  In fact, they are fast becoming a distinguished and stylish home design.
- Finally, cabinets and drawers often use the cheap particle board over the solid wood varieties to save money. However, the particle board contains formaldehyde to bind the particles together.  

Building and home improvement can be very satisfying when the job is complete. However, it becomes an even greater joy if  you take into consideration these factors mentioned above to make your home comfortable all year round for you and your family.

TAGS: energy-efficiency, solar, high-efficiency, remodel, renovation, green building, replacement windows, austin texas, design, graceland windows

10 Tips To Get You Through Your Kitchen Remodel

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Most everyone wants a new kitchen but few people realize the work and inconvenience that goes into a kitchen remodel.  A big remodel can take months and you won't have access to the room while the work is going on.  While this can be a trying time, once you have your beautiful new kitchen in place it will be well worth it!

Here's some tips to get you through the remodel and on to your new kitchen:

1.  You will need to set up a temporary kitchen in another part of the house. Make sure it is a convenient location with access to water and a space to keep food cold as well as a place to heat up meals. Sometimes portable appliances like a crock pot or electric frying pan and a small dorm fridge and microwave work well for a temporary arrangement, assuming you will be replacing your old appliances. 

2.  Make sure you really think about how long the job will take.  Most jobs run longer than expected.  This can be frustrating for everyone, so it's in your best interest to set a realistic date so that way you won't be disappointed. 

3.  Make sure you know what you are going to reuse.  Whether you do some of the work yourself, or hire it out, make sure that it is very clear what things are going to be reused.  The cabinets, counter tops and flooring can become damaged during a remodel and if you are planning on reusing them this can be a huge problem and expense.  Remember to be careful around these reusable items.

4.  Make sure you seal off the room properly so you don't get dust and debris all over the house.  If you are hiring a contractor to do the job, they will probably know what to do but if you are doing it yourself, invest in some plastic sheeting and make sure you secure it around the doorways as good as possible.

5. Get everything out of the kitchen.  Box up everything that will not be used in your temporary kitchen. Label the boxes and store them out of the way.

6.  Remove anything that isn't nailed or screwed down. This includes drawers, lazy susans, spice racks, wall clocks, ornaments, etc. Place a protective cover over anything that must remain in place while you work.

7.  Make arrangements for the removal of any refuse that may accumulate during the remodeling. if you must rent a dumpster, do so in plenty of time or have a pick up truck on hand for hauling the rubbish to the dump. if you plan to salvage the old cabinetry for a workshop or donation to a charitable cause, have a place ready for them to go as you take them out of your work area.

8.  Think safety and remember to turn off all utilities before removing any major appliances.  This can be done at the individual shut off valves for gas and water. If there are no shut off valves, you will have to turn off the main valve. The main gas valve is usually located near the gas meter. Remember that, once you turn off the gas to the whole house, ALL pilot lights will have to be relit before they will work again. Without careful planning you may find yourself without hot water when you're ready to clean up after a hard day's work.

9.  In older homes, the wiring may have been modified over the years and it may not be clear which circuits or fuses control specific areas. If you are unsure, turn off the main power or get professional assistance. Never take a chance with electricity! In addition, tape over the breakers so they won't be turned on inadvertently. If you plan on upgrading your electrical system and adding new outlets and fixtures, it will be necessary to dismantle all existing outlets and fixtures.

10.  Remove all light bulbs. Then, dismantle each fixture by using a screwdriver to unscrew the plate and the receptacle and pull the receptacle out of the box. Put wire nuts on any exposed wires for the interim. The bare copper wire is the ground and does not need to be capped.

Author Bio
Lee Dobbins writes for A Kitchen Decorating Idea where you can find more tips on kitchen remodeling and decorating on a budget.

Spring is Coming, Austin…Start Planning Your Backyard Oasis Today

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While not all of us can live on a lake or beach, you can still incorporate water into your landscaping by building a pond. You'll need to spend some time choosing the best site, designing your water feature, and then doing the manual work: excavating, installing the filtration system and water pump, arranging rocks and gravel both for aesthetic impact and practical, structural purposes, and then landscaping, and adding animal life, if you choose (and animals will show up anyway). This project is a bit of a commitment, but the results will be worth it. 

1. Select a Site 

I suggest beginning the design process inside. Consider what the places are in your home where you'll be able to see and hear your pond. You want it close to your living space to really integrate it into your environment. You don't want to have to walk through 20 feet of grass to enjoy your water feature. 

Avoid low areas that already collect water—you'll have to worry about flooding, runoff, and foreign pollutants. I advise against building underneath tree canopies, because you'll spend a lot of time digging out leaves. If you have large trees, ask an arborist about the likely root perimeter. And consider easements, fences, and potential future landscape design. 

2. Design 

Once you've selected a space, get out the garden hose. Use it to outline your future pond, and play around with size and shape. The No. 1 complaint often heard is that after the construction is complete, people wish their new pond was bigger. Don't forget you'll be adding rocks and plants and possibly a waterfall. 

Once you're satisfied, take a look at it from different angles, from inside your house, and from other areas of the garden. When you've made a decision, mark the outline with orange spray paint. 

3. Ordering Supplies 

Use a systematic approach to building your pond, and have everything on-site before you start digging. To calculate the number of rocks you'll need, take your pond length times width to get the square footage, divide by 65, and you'll get the tonnage. (For example, an 8 x 11-foot pond, a standard size, that'd be 88/65 = 1.35 tons). For the amount of gravel you'll need, take that tonnage and multiply by 30 percent. 

Use a 2:1 ratio for small (6 to 12 inches in diameter) to medium stones (12 to 18 inches), and you may want to add in a few large accent boulders for variety. 

You'll also need a liner and underlay, a filter, a skimmer, a pump, beneficial bacteria to keep the water healthy (because it's a closed water ecosystem), and PVC pipe. You can buy complete pond kits instead of purchasing everything separately, which will save you some time, and you'll also know that all the components will work together. 

4. Plants 

The plants in your pond aren't just for looks—they also help keep the water healthy. You'll want about 50 percent coverage of the pond structure when they're mature, and your best bet is to talk with your local garden center experts (The Great Outdoors in Austin is wonderful) and ask about the difference between floaters, submersibles, and marginals. As with the rest of your garden, plan for a year-round blooming schedule so there's always something attractive and interesting happening around your pond. 

5. Animals 

You'll get visits from the local wildlife. You are, after all, creating an attractive oasis environment for them, too. Butterflies, dragonflies, frogs, and maybe even ducks will be on the guest list.  

And what would a pond be without fish? The guideline is 1 inch of fish per 10 gallons of water—make sure you don't overcrowd. If you're concerned about protecting your fish, place a fish cave or fish rocks where they can hide. This gives them natural cover and a stress-free environment, which means healthier and happier fish.

Expect your pond to take about three years to really grow in and look fantastic—but once you've hit that milestone, 10 to 20 minutes a week in basic maintenance is all you'll need to spend. That'll leave plenty of time to enjoy the beauty of your backyard oasis. 

6. Safety 

Check your local laws about requirements for enclosing a body of water. Some municipalities require fences around ponds that are larger than 250 square feet, some have no rules, and some apply swimming pool laws to backyard ponds. If you're concerned about child safety, then consider enclosing your deck with a gate, if possible, or installing a standard swimming pool fence. 

The Fun Part….The Installation 


Dig: Start by putting the filter and skimmer units in place at the edge of your pond, and connecting the PVC pipe to the filter (the pipe will be buried under the berm. Then it's shovel time. First, you'll bury the filter. Then dig out the first shelf in the middle to around 8 to 10 inches, building up the berm with the soil, and bury the skimmer around 20 inches deep. Excavate a second shelf (measurements depend on the size of your pond). Then you can lay out the underlay and the liner, and fit the liner around the skimmer. 

Rocks: The rocks go on top—boulders first, from bottom to top, and fit them together as best you can. They should rise slightly above the liner. Then lay gravel over the bottom—not too thick, just enough to cover the liner—and the rest goes into the voids between the boulders. Hook up the skimmer, then wash off the boulders to get rid of the dust and dirt. Use a pump to get out the dirty water. 

Fill: It's time to fill 'er up with the hose—you'll need about 700 gallons of water for an 8 x 11–foot pond, depending on depth. Because of evaporation and weather conditions, your pond will lose about 2 inches of water per week, so refilling needs to be on your maintenance schedule. You can upgrade to an auto-fill valve, which works like a toilet float. It goes inside the mechanical filter and then runs to the water spigot, where you can attach it with a Y-splitter. 

Berm: At this point, you should have the beginnings of a berm using the soil you dug out to create your pond cavity. Bigger is better, because you'll have an easier transition to your landscaping. The slope should be a 2:1 ratio—for every 2 feet out, go 1 foot up. Larger berms also mean that you'll be able to plant deep-root-system plants; although, consider putting in a retaining wall for extra structural support. Trim the liner, and leave around 6 inches, then finish off with rocks, gravel and more soil. 

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