10 steps to successful home remodeling

Is your remodeling dream financially feasible? Ask a lender. Too many homeowners call an architect and contractor first. They may spend thousands of dollars only to find they can’t afford their dream remodel and must revise their plans.

Ask the lender for input on whether the kind of remodel you want is right for your neighborhood. Find out what work will add equity to your home. Also ask for sales and price information on larger homes in your neighborhood. You might find it’s not worthwhile to remodel your home.

Does your area have building restrictions? Many cities and homeowner associations impose limitations. Contact your planning and building department for any restrictions on the work you’d like to do. Also ask: How long is the approval process? What are the costs and plan requirements? Are there any special assessments or fees? Is there a design review board? Is there a size limit for a structure based on the size of the lot?

How do I begin the design phase? Assuming that you’ve already met with your lender and checked with the planning department, you’re ready to start sketching a preliminary design. Do you need an architect or contractor? This depends on the scope of the project. Architects may be needed for more complicated jobs such as second-story additions. For simple additions, many contractors can offer preliminary designs free of charge. Before you make a decision, remember that you need a design that gives you the most value for your budget.

Selecting the architect-contractor for Home Remodeling Sparta. Ask for referrals from neighbors, friends and your lender. Those that make remodeling loans should be able to provide a good list of candidates. If you are using an architect and builder, select both up front to provide checks and balances. They should be accountable for delivering a plan that can be built without compromise, avoiding cookie-cutter plans and designs that go over budget.

Visit your lender to learn whether your preliminary plans will be financed and whether the design will enhance the future value of your home.

Check all of the contractor’s references before you get a bid. Ask your contractor if bills are paid on time and employees are covered by workers’ compensation. The answers can help you avoid mechanics liens and other unpleasant surprises.

Call the Contractors License Board to find out if the contractor’s license is valid and bond is active. Then check customer references. Did the job progress on time and on budget? When a tradesman began work, did he work continuously until the work was done?

Getting bids. Make sure the bids cover the same design and specifications. This is especially important when dealing with contractors, who often bid based on what they “usually do” rather than what is specified. Tell the contractor up front that you’re on a tight budget, that you’ll be getting other bids and that you hope you’ll get a bid you can afford while maintaining quality work.

If the bid is too good to be true, it probably is. Most horror stories associated with remodeling are a result of the lowball bid. Either the contractor miscalculated what your job should cost or intentially submitted a low bid hoping to make it up on the extras.

Securing the building permits and final loan approval. To avoid delays in construction, plans and specs can be submitted to both the building department (for final plan check) and the lender (for loan approval) simultaneously. Your architect or builder should handle this for you.

Finally, though your contractor might be eager to begin sending in the wrecking crews, don’t begin work until the loan has been recorded.

Replace tiles before mildew sets in

Ceramic tile is beautiful and easy to clean and care for, but it is not indestructible. If you’ve ever dropped something heavy on the floor, or flung open the door and heard the doorknob cracking a wall tile, you already know this.

Even if you’re very careful, over time, grout can crack, chip and wear down, which increases the likelikhood of chipping the tile.

Either way, left unattended, these problems will only make for bigger problems. The immediate threat is that water collecting behind the tile makes a wonderful medium for mildew to grow. In the long run, the moisture will damage the floor or wall behind. So consider taking some time to replace broken tiles.

The hardest part of repairing ceramic tile is removing the broken piece and the surrounding grout without damaging the other tiles or what’s underneath the tile. So use the right tools and don’t rush.

A grout rake or grout saw, available at hardware stores or home centers, will help you remove the grout around the damaged tile. If the grout is the only problem, remove all the loose, cracked grout, brush the grout lines to remove loose pieces of grout and dust, and proceed with putting in new grout.

If you have a cracked or damaged tile to fix, too, the surest way to remove it without damaging surrounding tiles is to break it into smaller pieces.

There are several ways to do this. I use what’s referred to as a cold chisel and hammer. Holding the chisel against the tile with one hand, I hit the handle of the chisel with the hammer.

Crack an X across the surface of the tile, then break up these smaller pieces with the chisel and hammer until the tile is loose enough to allow you to start removing it. Work the chisel under the loosened tile and gently tap the chisel with the hammer to coax the tile off. Be careful not to slip with the chisel and damage adjacent tiles.

To clean all the old grout and adhesive off the surface below where the tile was, I recommend using a wood chisel or a thin-bladed putty knife. Be especially careful if you are removing adhesive from a wall. The solid surface underneath is probably drywall, plaster, green board or cement board. If you gouge or otherwise damage any of these kinds of surfaces, you will need to fill any holes with an appropriate patching compound before continuing.

Before replacing the tile, make sure the area is clean, dry, smooth and dust-free. Spread ceramic tile mastic on the back of the new tile with a putty knife or notched spreader. Press the tile in place firmly, checking to be sure it is flush with the surrounding tiles. Let it cure according to the manufacturer’s directions. For more information please visit discount Inalco ceramic tile store.

When the adhesive has dried, apply grout to the joints. Since it is such a small area, you can use your fingers, but make sure to wear work gloves.

Press the grout into the grout lines until the grout is flush with the tiles. Let is set about 15 minutes, then wipe diagonally across the tiles with a clean, damp sponge to remove any excess grout.

Let the grout dry for at least 12 hours before using a soft, dry cloth to buff away any remaining powdering grout residue.

CHeck the directions for the grout you purchased. Some need to be resealed after 48 to 72 hours.

Installing own carpet can be satisfying job

Carpets offer an attractive and a practical floor covering. You can install them yourself with only a few tools, but you need to be aware of two problems.

First, carpets are heavy, so it helps to do this project with a friend. Second, without expensive tools it is difficult to stretch the carpet tightly to the wall. You can, however, achieve a good, though maybe not perfect, result on your own.

Before laying carpet, you must prepare the subfloor. This means getting rid of all dust, repairing any cracks, and securing loose tiles and/or floorboards.

The next step is to obtain an accurate measurement of the room to be carpeted. This will require measurements from several places because the room may not be square. Once you have obtained the dimensions of your room, you will need to purchase enough carpet so that there is an overlap of four inches for each wall. While at the carpet store postroadcarpetoneacton.com/, you should also purchase tack strips to fit the dimensions of your room, seam tape if the room is wider than the carpet, and a utility knife with plenty of razor blades.

Carpets are bonded to a subfloor with glue, double-sided tape or tack strips. Glue is used most frequently for laying down commercial carpet and is not necessary for most residential situations. Double-sided tape often does not provide an adequate bond and is therefore not recommended. This leaves tack strips.

Tack strips are narrow wood slats with tacks sticking up from them. They need to be placed alongside each wall about 1/2 an inch from the wall. If you have a wooden subfloor, it is easy to nail these strips in place. If you are working with a concrete subfloor, the job is more difficult. You can nail the strips into the concrete with masonry nails, or if that is too difficult the strips can be glued in place.

You can now lay out the carpet, starting from the middle of the room and working toward each wall. Press the carpet against each wall and allow the carpet to settle for a few hours. This allows gravity to take care of some of the wrinkles and folds. To further straighten the carpet, raise one of the corners, stand on the subfloor, and gently kick it.

Once in place, the carpet can now be cut. Be sure to leave four inches of overlap on each side for trimming. The best tool for cutting carpet is a utility knife. Make sure that the blade is sharp. Sharp blades make your cuts easier, cleaner and safer.

At this point, you will know if you will need to attach two pieces of carpet with a seam. If that is the case (the width of the carpet is smaller than the width of the room), plan to keep the seam away from high traffic areas such as a doorway. To join two pieces of carpet together with a seam, you will need to purchase seam tape and rent a seaming iron.

With your two large pieces of carpet in their approximate places, it is important to align the carpet naps so that they are facing in the same direction. The nap consists of the fibers that make up the surface area of the carpet. The best way to solve this problem is to rub your hand along the carpet fibers. Rubbing in one direction will smooth out the fibers while rubbing in the other direction will raise them.

Once satisfied that the naps are facing the same way, fold back one carpet section and draw a line on the subfloor along the edge of the carpet that remains in place. Fold back the other piece of carpet and place the tape on the subfloor with the line serving as the midpoint. Now run the seaming iron across the tape to melt the glue. Place one section of the carpet firmly on the tape and lay the second carpet section as close to it as possible. Use your hands on both sides of the seam to press the two sections of carpet together as tightly as you can.

You now have the carpet in place with a four-inch overlap along each wall. The next step is to trim the carpet. If you have baseboards, cut the carpet again so that the overlap is reduced to one inch. If you don’t have baseboards, push the carpet firmly against the wall and trim as close to the edge as you can. To trim a door frame, cut the carpet at right angles to the floor for both sides of the frame. Fold the carpet over and cut away the strip. Then create a crease at the door opening and cut along the crease. If the carpet ends there, it is a good idea to purchase a metal doorstrip to help hold the carpet firmly in place.

You secure the carpet by pushing the carpet edge into the tacks on the tack strips. If you have a baseboard, push the carpet into the tacks and then slip the excess carpet under the baseboard. If you don’t have baseboards, push the carpet edge as close to the wall as possible and then press down hard on the tacks.

How to noise-proof your home

Use Vibration Isolator Pads

These inexpensive little foot rests, available at heating and industrial supply stores, will help isolate the noise made by dishwashers, furnaces and washing machines. Cost: About $10.

Hang a Suspended Ceiling

Suspended ceilings do an excellent job of noise reduction, but it helps to choose the right kind of panel. there are two types:

The flexible fiberglass panels are better at absorbing noise generated within the room itself (making it quieter if you’re in that room). Rigid mineral board panels, on the other hand, do a better job of blocking sounds from entering or leaving the room (making it quieter inother parts of the house).

Insulting the joist space above the seiling and covering it with drywall wil quiet things even further. Cost: $3 to $6 per sq. ft.

Install Interior Storm Windows

Acrylic interior storm windows work extremely well at blocking exterior noise, plus they’re great for eliminating drafts and condensation on the interior of windows. They’re easy to install and can be used in selected rooms or throughout your house. Cost About $60 each, in kit form.

* Add Air-Conditioning

Either window-mount or whole house (central) units allow you to close your windows and shut out exterior noise. Whole-house units are much quieter than window models. Make sure window-mount units are mounted on and surrounded by EPDM gaskets (found in the weatherstripping section of your home center) to isolate their vibrations from the wall.

Did You Know?

Trees and bushes do little to block or absorb outside noise. Sure, they provide psychological relief by blocking your view of the noisy neighbors or busy highway, but not much else. Fences aren’t particularly useful either, unless they’re extraordinarily tall, solid and thick. Wall and roof insulation, while helpful when used with other soundproofing measures, don’t make much difference by themselves. Most sound enters our homes through windows (open or shut), holes in walls, and through the wooden framwork of the house itself.

* Put Speakers On Stands

Speakers mounted directly on or in contact with walls and floors can sure sound great, but the vibrations can travel all over the house. Put the speakers on stands instead. Cost: $20 and up at stereo stores.

Install Exterior Storm Windows

High-quality exterior storm windows with heavy glass and good weatherstripping will help keep outside noise out. Install them in a bead of silicone caulk for best results. Cost: $60 to $150 per window.

Isolate Duct Vibrations

Flexible rubber boots at the furnace output and cold-air-return ducts will keep vibrations. from traveling along the ducts. The rubber boots are available from heating supply stores, and any heating contractor or experienced do-it-yourselfer can retrofit them to existing ductwork. Cost: $30.

Isolate Pipes From House Framing

Pipes can bang, ratthle and squeak where they contact wood. An oversized hole with a pipe inset and pipes hung from special hangers will isolate vibrations and reduce noise. Both the inserts and hangers are available at home centers and plumbing stores.

Stop Pipe Banging

Water hammer arresters will end the annoying banging caused by quick-closing valves on dishwashers, washing machines and faucets. Whole-system hammer arresters (about $75) and individual appliance arresters ($15) are available at plumbing supply stores and hardware stores. Appliance arresters just screw on, and whole-house arresters are soldered into your water line.

* Sound Absorbing Furnishings

To absorb sound within a room, furnish it with thick curtains, dense carpets and overstuffed furniture. All of these absorb sound well, and the carpet from the local carpet shop will soften impact noises from feet.

Sound-Deadening Wallcoverings

Burlap-covered Homasote panels or cork panels run about $1 per square foot. Homasote, a versatile fiberboard made from recycled newspapers, is ideal for many sound-deadening applications. Both Homasote and cork panels absorb sound, are easy to install and doule as decorative accents. You can buy both at home centers.

* Check For Pipe Restrictions

Clogs, sharp turns and partly opened valves can all restrict water movement in supply pipes, producing a roaring sound. A small crimp in a supply tube to a toilet or sink can make that fixture sound like Niagara Falls. Replace the tube or valve.

Use Solid-Core Interior Doors

Replace those hollow-core doors with a solid (not raised-panel) model, then weatherstrip it as you would an exterior door. This is ideal for quieting the noise from a bathroom, workshop or utility room. Cost: $75.

Don’t let remodeling jobs get toxic

Home-remodeling projects can be hazardous, warns Glen Hetzel, a Virginia Cooperative Extension agricultural engineer.

Hetzel, who is also a safety specialist at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, gives the following tips on how to stay safe:

“It is important to keep areas being remodeled well ventilated and closed off from occupied portions of the house because toxic fumes come from many sources,” Hetzel said. He recommends two weeks of curing time before moving into the remodeled area.

Even new carpet from Carpet One store should be allowed to cure one to two weeks, with the windows open, before family members get close to it, he said.

The most common gas released during remodeling is formaldehyde, said Hetzel. Allergic responses to it might include rashes, headaches, watery eyes, even breathing difficulties.

Other sources of air pollution are dust from sanding hardwood floors and refinishing woodwork, varnishes, some paints, plastics and vinyls.

“Even a new shower curtain releases gases,” Hetzel said.

What’s hot in baths

The hottest bathroom color combo is white, teal and burgundy, according to the National Kitchen & Bath Association. The tidbit was reported in the April issue of McCall’s magazine.

When spot leaves spots

You walk in the door after work. One whiff, and you know Fido needed to be walked long ago.

Don’t get mad, get moving. Cleaning a pet mess right away increases your chances of banishing the odor, says an article in a recent issue of Better Homes and Gardens magazine.

It recommends the following blot-and-dilute techniques:

Soak up as much urine as possible by stacking a half-inch of paper towels over the area and bearing down hard with your shoe. Repeat until you can’t blot any more liquid. Then add a tablespoon of water to the spot and, wearing rubber gloves, work it in with your fingers. Put down another pile of towels and continue blotting.

After testing for colorfastness in an inconspicuous spot, apply a solution of one part white vinegar to two parts water. Let this stand a few minutes and repeat blotting, then use water to remove vinegar solution.

For feces, pick up the solid matter, apply a mild detergent solution to the area, then proceed as with urine spots.

How to replace a cracked ceramic tile

If you’re lucky, you’ll have some extra tiles. If you don’t have extras, however, visit some tile stores. You might be able to find a close match. If you can’t find anything close, you can get creative and replace a few more tiles to make a new pattern.

Matching the grout can be a bit tricky, even though tile stores carry a wide range of colors. For the best match, take a piece of the old grout with you to the tile store.

Once you’re home, mix some grout before you start the project to make sure the color matches. Grout changes color as it dries and you may find you’ll need to do some color adjusting by mixing two colors.

Adhesives and grout

Whether the damaged tile is on the floor or on the wall, the repair steps are similar. The main difference is the type of adhesive and grout used.

For floor tiles, use thin-set mortar as the adhesive. It comes in a powder that you mix with water. Follow the directions on the package for the correct mixture consistency. To regrout floor tile, use sanded grout.

For wall tile repairs, use premixed mastic adhesive and non-sanded grout.

Always check the adhesive package for the required drying time before applying the new grout. If you rush the regrouting step and the tile shifts, you’ll need to start over. Lastly, seal the grout with grout sealer, available from the tile dealer.

All of the specialized products, including the grout saw, grout float and adhesive trowel are sold at tile stores. Materials and tools will cost about $20.

1 REMOVE the damaged ceramic tile with a cold chisel and hammer. Start at the edge of the tile, in the grout. Ceramic tile is brittle – small pieces will fly! Wear safety glasses and gloves. Be careful not to chip the surrounding tiles.

2 REMOVE the old grout with a grout saw. Some of the grout can be chipped out with the chisel; however, you’ll need to saw away all of the old grout to ensure a proper fit for the new file.

3 SCRAPE off the old adhesive with a cold chisel. Get rid of as much as possible so the new tile will adhere properly and lie flat. Scraping is the best way to remove old adhesive. Don’t use a heat gun or solvent unless you want a big mess.

4 APPLY the adhesive (thin-set mortar for a floor tile) with a notched trowel on the back of the tile. Be sure to spread the adhesive out to the edges. Don’t skimp on the adhesive: Too little will make the tile sit lower than the surrounding tiles. Any excess adhesive will ooze out and can be removed after the next step.

5 PLACE the tile, making sure that the grout lines are even with the adjacent tiles. To set the tile firmly into the adhesive, use a short length of wood and gently tap it with a hammer. If the tile is lower than the the surrounding tiles, simply remove it, apply additional adhesive and then reset the tile. Scrape out any excess adhesive from between the tiles with a screwdriver. Once the ceramic tile is set, stay off it until the adhesive is dry, usually 24 hours.

6 SPREAD the grout using a rubber grout float. Hold the float at a 45-degree angle to the tile. Move the grout in both directions at an angle to the grout lines to make sure it fills the gaps between the tiles. Let the grout set for about 10 minutes and then wipe the area with a damp grout sponge. A grout sponge has rounded corners and is the best way to shape the grout lines. Once the grout has dried, usually overnight, wipe off any residue with a soft cloth.

Clean Those Windows and See Autumn

Naturally, plain water and newspaper are still the best, cheapest window cleaners – first using a garden hose to spray off the outside windows, followed by a sponge dampened with warm water to finish the job. Then use a wadded up newspaper to polish the cleaned glass.

For heavy, outside window-cleaning jobs, mix a solution of one quart of warm water, 1/4-cup plain ammonia or 1/4-cup distilled vinegar (don’t use both, they’ll neutralize each other), 1/2-cup denatured alcohol (if it’s cold enough outside to freeze the solution), a teaspoon of trisodium phosphate (Spic and Span) and one tablespoon of cornstarch. Don’t use sudsy ammonia, it will leave streaks.

Stir or shake until granules are dissolved and use a sponge to clean the top, bottom and middle of each pane. Rinse with a garden hose and polish with newspaper. Or, if you prefer the high-tech method, put the solution in a spray bottle to apply it to the glass, following up with a garden hose.

Window cleaning tips – Pick an overcast, cool day, or a time when the sun is not shining directly on the windows, to help prevent streaking. Direct sun causes the cleaning solution to evaporate before it can be removed with your equipment.

If practical, vacuum the window frames with the brush attachment to remove any grit, spider webs, dead bugs, etc. If windows have excess paint on the panes, apply hot vinegar on a sponge to the paint and remove the softened paint with a single-edge razor scraping tool.

Start at the top of the window and work your way down. If there are a lot of windows, complete the top horizontal row, then the next one down and the next and the next, etc.

To help keep track of which side of the pane the streaks are on, wipe the outside using vertical strokes and the inside using horizontal strokes. Then, when you see streaks, you can tell, by their alignments, which sides of the glass they’re on.

If you live in a two-story house, consider hiring a professional cleaning firm Jan-Pro Englewood to do the work.

If you do second story work yourself, don’t take your life in your hands by sitting on the window sill with your body outside the window! Instead, raise and lower both top and bottom sashes so you can reach the outside from inside the room. Most modern storm windows are designed so they can be removed from inside the frames – do so and clean your windows in the bathtub!

If you have a big job and tall windows, invest in a pole mounted squeegee. Buy one with a blade just a little longer than the panes are wide and use a hacksaw to cut the squeegee the exact width of the panes. If you have to reach second floor windows from outside, buy a telescoping paint-roller pole and install the squeegee on the end of it. To properly use a squeegee, wet the pane lightly with cleaning solution and then take a damp sponge to wipe the squeegee blade, so it will glide smoothly over the pane, instead of skipping. Tilt the squeegee at a 45-degree angle to the glass and pull it from left to right (right point of squeegee into the upper left corner of the pane) horizontally across the top of the pane. Wipe the blade with a damp sponge and make another pass, just below the first one, slightly overlapping the bottom of the first pass. Repeat this until you’re satisfied with the job, wiping the blade after each pass.

Most lumber supply stores sell high-pressure sprayers which attach to the end of your garden hose and have reservoirs to hold cleaning solutions. They can be used to first spray a soap solution and then plain water to rinse it off.

Kitchen remodeling as a multipurpose family room

What if your tired old kitchen’s heartbeat is weaker than it should be? Is it financially prudent to remodel? And, if you do decide to remodel, how can you design a kitchen that works well today and into the 21st century?

For starters, take heart if you’re living in an older home with a 1950s-era “Leave It to Beaver” kitchen, because you’re far from alone. According to the U.S. Census, more than 60 percent of American homes are now more than 20 years old. For the first time in U.S. history, more money is being spent on home improvements than on new home construction, and a dated kitchen is an ideal room for improvement.

Furthermore, renovating a kitchen is one of the smartest ways for a homeowner to spend his or her remodeling dollars. In its annual cost vs. value survey, Remodeling Magazine reports that within one year of a professional kitchen remodel in a mid-priced home in an established neighborhood, a minor project would recoup 104 percent of its cost upon resale. Under the same circumstances, a major kitchen remodel would recoup 95 percent of its cost.

As for design trends that will take you and your kitchen into the future,  Jim Krengel, a kitchen guru, suggested thinking of your kitchen as a multipurpose family room – a casual, comfortable, unpretentious place for family and friends to congregate.

Casual is the word to remember, he said.

“We have casual workday attire now, and we’re getting more casual in our interior decoration, too. Remember the formal dining room? It got used maybe two or three times a year. What a waste of space.”

Casual doesn’t mean bland or uninspiring. For sheer impact, Krengel advocates a healthy dose of color, the “forgotten element” in good kitchen design.

“People are afraid to put color into their kitchen,” he said. “They want to stay with safe, boring colors because they don’t realize that the right colors reflect favorably on food. Red, for example, stimulates the appetite, while blue gives a harsh cast to food.”

Krengel feels soft earth tones are making a comeback to the kitchen, but not the saturated golds and avocados of the 1960s.

He is excited about the two-tone concept, which he said is one of today’s leading kitchen trends and a look that is going to be around for a long time.

The two-tone concept means moldings or trim on cabinets are painted in different hues. For example, natural maple cabinets are accented with burgundy trim or, in another scenario, lipstick red and shiny black laminate cabinets share the spotlight with wood and glass.

“The two-tone concept allows cabinets and work stations to stand apart from their ‘neighbors,’ ” he said.

Cabinets are the most dominant as well as the most expensive element in the design equation. To offset the high cost of cabinets, Krengel suggested using standard-stock cabinets in unorthodox ways.

“Stagger the heights of cabinets instead of lining them all up,” he advised. “Or place a base cabinet forward a bit.”

To give standard cabinets the look of furniture, he recommended replacing a door front here and there with a glass insert. (If you use glass doors on bottom cabinets, remember to use safety glass so that tykes on bikes won’t have accidents.)

Glass cabinets dress up any kitchen, providing you are the neat type. If not, forget the glass option.

“A colorful box of Cap’n Crunch cereal looks great behind a glass door, but an open box of pitted prunes may not be so appetizing to look at,” Krengel said.

Krengel’s kitchen pet peeve is vinyl flooring, followed closely by ceramic floors.

“Vinyl is constantly pretending to be something else,” he said. “And ceramic is hard on the feet — not to mention a baby’s knees — and everything that’s dropped on it breaks.”

His solution is natural wood floors, which he dubs a forever floor.

“Wood floors are big in the Midwest,” he said. “Even if they get scratched, it’s part of their beauty and patina. But if you’re unhappy with the scratches, you can always refinish your wood floor.”

Krengel is delighted with the new wood laminates, too, saying they often wear better than wood.

Construction tips from king of the sand castle

he reason I noticed this was because I had forgotten my own folding shovel, and wasn’t digging myself.

For me, a trip to the beach isn’t complete without making a sand castle. When the kids were younger, they would join me in making ramps, doorways, tunnels and moats. When the channel to the water was complete, the waves would rush in, filling the moat and eroding our creation.

As the kids grew older, I suspect they might have thought that Dad, sitting in the sand, dribbling wet sand out of a cardboard cup, had lost his marbles.

But I don’t mind. There’s a fascination with making something from sand that still attracts me, even if my castles are rudimentary or misshapen.

Maybe it’s a bid by an aging boomer to recapture some of the joy of youth. Maybe it’s the visceral thrill of creating something so fleeting. Maybe it’s a form of artistic expression.

It’s the artistic expression that draws Todd Vander Pluym, of Redondo Beach, Calif. At 55, you’d think he was too old to be playing in the sand, but after winning 188 of the 194 sand-sculpture competitions he’s entered, he parlayed sand sculpture into a full-time job, doing “installations” at fairs, malls and events across the continent.

“It’s man’s oldest art form, done since Neanderthal times,” he said from Cincinatti, on a break between jobs. “Ramses II used sand sculpture. Da Vinci used sand sculpture.”

Really.

“I think about one-third of the population is the visual builder type. They enjoy putting things together. Sand is an easy medium to work with. You just have to have the desire.”

Assuming you have the desire, here are sand sculpting tips from an expert.

You need the right sand. Pick up damp sand and squeeze the water out. Then open your hand. If it rocks back and forth in one piece, it’s good. If it breaks in two, it’s OK. If it breaks in many pieces or sticks to your hand, you’re in the wrong place.

To give yourself sculptable sand, cut the bottom from a five-gallon bucket. Invert the bucket firmly in the sand and pour in water. Then shovel in sand, and pack it down with a two-by-four until you meet resistance.

Add more water and more sand, repeating the procedure until you are about one inch short of the opening. Then slide the bucket off, with a helper tapping the sides to free the sand. You can use anything up to a 55-gallon trash can, but you’ll need a team to remove that.

Vander Pluym says that, undisturbed, this sand will last for years, but his explanation — involving capillary water action, the sand’s pendular state and the positive ionization of the sand particles — will make your head hurt. Just take him at his word.

Sculpting tools can be “anything that works. Just don’t take anything you want to keep.” Melon scoops are good for the notches under parapets, cake-decorating spatulas are good for sharp edges. A spray bottle with an ample supply of tap water (grit will clog the nozzle) is essential.

Dribble castles are fun for kids and adults. Cut the bottom from a plastic jug and drill a one-quarter inch hole in the cap. With your finger over the hole in the cap, half-fill the jug with water and half-fill with sand, leaving water standing at the top. Then take your finger off the hole to let the sand dribble out.

You can hand-build a castle by having your supply of wet sand one second away from the building site. Make a large sand egg in your hand and quickly lay it in position, like brick-laying. Or use both hands to make a hamburg patty shape and pile one atop the other to make a tall conical tower.

Just don’t move the shape once it’s placed.

Remington sculpture is very beautiful art form, that crosses all ages, races and religions,” says the expert. “It is a totally reusable resource, that takes nothing away from the earth, but leaves a visual pleasure.”

And if it’s OK for Ramses II and da Vinci to play in the sand, it’s OK for you, too.