Laminate is a good choice for flooring

Laminate flooring consists of three components bonded together. Its decorative surface is a high-pressure melamine laminate, which bonds to a moisture-resistant’ wood-based core (usually high-density or medium-density fiberboard). A balancing backer of laminate (generally of the same composition as the top layer) bonds to the underside of the core for stability. Companies claim the high-finish surfaces are about 20 times stronger than a laminate kitchen countertop.

Laminate flooring installs using a “floating floor” system with tongue-and-groove construction that allows planks to be glued and fitted together (rather than be nailed or glued to a subfloor). A small gap left at the walls allows expansion and contraction to take place without damaging the floor. A strip of underlayment foam provides cushioning and sound absorption.

Laminate flooring sizes vary, but planks generally measure 46 to 50 inches long by 8 inches wide. Most come with matching wallbases and moulding products for finishing touches.

“It installs easily over plywood or oriented-strand board,” says builder Bob Bowers, of TAB Homes Corp.. “Unlike when installing vinyl, I don’t have to worry about making a wrong cut or matching patterns.”

Once installed, it’s as easy to maintain as a laminate countertop. “We tell our customers to simply wipe it down with a damp rag or mop to take care of dirt and grime,” says Lynne Wilde of Wilsonart International, which introduced a laminate flooring line early this year. “We knew laminate was a good choice for flooring because of its durability, easy maintenance, style and comfort of laminate flooring,” says Wilde. “Flooring was the next logical step for Wilsonart,” traditionally a countertop manufacturer.

How to choose the right carpet for your home

Carpeting can be made of natural or synthetic fibers or blends. Be sure to read the back label on the sample thoroughly before buying.

Wool: A staple yarn (strips of fiber spun together) that dyes and cleans well, but is not resistant to static electricity or fading. It also is nonallergenic, which means you won’t sneeze or break out in hives if you roll on it like a Labrador retriever.

Acrylic: Another staple yarn, acrylic is color-fast and resists stains but can pill and fuzz.

Nylon: The defending champ in the carpeting world because of its ability to withstand static electricity and staining. A continuous filament yarn, nylon starts life as a chemical stew and is stretched into fibers, meaning it sheds less.

Olefin/Polypropylene: This stuff is tougher than an overcooked steak. It makes good outdoor carpeting in case you own an NFL team.

Polyester: Polyester is a staple yarn, wears nicely and won’t make your nose runny. It resists fading, but is harder to clean than nylon or wool.

Blends: Combo platters of the above taking unfair advantage of all their good qualities.

Padding: This is what goes between mean old Mr. Floor and your carpeting. It’s primarily meant to keep your carpeting from disintegrating and, as an afterthought, to please your feet.

Urethane Foam: Urethane foam comes in many different densities. Do the “Mr. Whipple” on it and squeeze it before purchasing. If it flattens easily, don’t expect it to perform any differently under your carpeting. Try to upgrade your pad to a denser product; it’s always a good investment.

Rebond: Recycled urethane leftovers scrunched together. Rebond also is available in many densities and should be selected like urethane foam.

Never buy carpeting without bringing a sample home and looking at it under various lighting conditions throughout the day. Also, bring fabric swatches, finish samples, paint chips and wallpaper scraps with you to the store. This will speed the selection process, follow this link.

Once you’ve selected the style of carpeting, type of padding and the color that’s right for you, it’s time to install the product.

Most carpeting comes in 12-foot rolls, so you will need what’s called “fill,” otherwise only half your room will be carpeted. Make sure the retailer fully explains where the seams are going before the carpeting is installed.

Also, check all guarantees offered on the product and installation.

Hardwood flooring finishes include water-based treatment

The “green revolution” has hit the home floor industry — and not a minute too soon. “The newest thing out now is a water-based finish that leaves your floor looking velvety,” says Dave Warrenchuk, owner of DMW Hardwood Floor, who works out of his home. “It’s a lot more environmentally friendly than the oil-based urethane. It’s like a latex paint.” A number of U.S. states have banned the use of toxic, potentially cancer causing solvent-based finishers. However, there are some advantages to using oil-based finishes, like making cracks disappear after your hardwood floor is sanded. “A cold winter and dry air will cause the floor boards to shift and the cracks to reappear,” says Warrenchuk, whose now-retired father was in the floor restoration business for 47 years. “But with an oil-based (finish) they won’t appear. With a water-based finish they will appear, but we can use a darker color.

It’s a problem – wood expands and contracts with dryness.” After applying the finish, Warrenchuk informs the homeowner about any existing and potential floor cracks. “Some people like the cracks because it adds character to the home,” he says. “The nice thing about a water-based finish is that it won’t hide the scratches, but it’s durable and easily maintained. Water based is used in newer homes, because the floors are tighter and there is less settling in the home.” Besides rejuvenating existing floors, Warrenchuk will also install brand new ones. It’s a process that can take him several days to complete. “Usually the material has to sit for seven to ten days (in the client’s house) to acclimatize itself to the environment,” says Warrenchuk, who also does fancy floor inlays of walnut or purple heart. “Wood has a moisture content of seven to ten per cent. And it has to match the moisture level of the home. We pile it in a room until it adjusts to the humidity level, otherwise it will expand or shrink.” After the wood has adapted to its new environment, Warrenchuk, who charges 90 cents per square foot, lays and then staples the individual planks across the sub-floor’s joists.

Then, he lets the other trades people complete their work (if it’s a complete home renovation) before finally sanding the new floor. As well, Warrenchuk can mechanically buff walnut, black, red or other staining colors on to the floor.

Like Warrenchuk, Emmanuels Flooring Ltd deals solely with hardwood floors. “I give customers an estimate and help them move all their furniture out, so all the rooms are empty,” says Gideon Kotulas, owner and manager of the company. “We charge by the square foot and by what kind of material we’re using (when resurfacing floors). The minimum charge is $250.” Depending on the type of wood used, installing a new floor runs from seven dollars to $14 per square foot.

Maybe your taste runs to vinyl orĀ  Wood Flooring in Santa Cruz CA, rather than tile. Then Judy McGregor, manager of retail flooring may be of assistance.

Among other products, her store carries the new Mannington gold series vinyl flooring and fresh introductions from Armstrong products. “Flooring is now much more colorful than before when it was mostly white,” says McGregor, adding vinyl covering ranges from $9 to $53 per square yard. “From a design aspect, they’re a nice contrast to the white European cabinets. There has been a shift from a high gloss to a Mexican look in ceramic tiles, so you get a little bit of texture.” Bill Knight also installs new floor coverings, including hardwood. “Lots of people are yanking out their old carpets and refinishing the existing hardwood floors or installing brand new ones,” says McGregor, adding low maintenance, affordable, track-less carpets are currently fashionable.

Luxury vinyl tiles rival the real thing

Vinyl flooring isn’t exactly what you’d expect to find underfoot at the upscale Harrods Department Store in London, the high-visibility set of NBC’s “Today Show” in Manhattan or the high-traffic main entrance at Hillcrest Medical Center.

But Amtico luxury resilient flooring is at home everywhere from a residential contemporary kitchen to an historical home’s entryway and from posh boutiques to busy airports.

The product has been available in Europe for 30 years, and wasn’t introduced in the United States until almost two years ago, but in that time both commercial and residential orders have been pouring in from around the country, said Mary Docker, business development director at Amtico, in a phone interview from Amtico Co. Ltd. headquarters, Coventry, England.

Amtico has more than 100 U.S. retail dealers, a showroom at the New York Design Center and a studio in Atlanta, which is also its U.S. headquarters.

Most of the eco-friendly flooring’s designs and colors are borrowed from nature such as wood, marble and stone. Parquet and brick designs are also available. For a more glitzy look, the metallic collection features variegated metallic-ore colors.

Although made of vinyl, the flooring looks amazingly like the real thing, said Mac Harbour, owner of Harbour Paint &Wallcovering.

“It’s not until you get down and touch it that you can tell it’s not real marble,” said Harbour, of the floor he recently installed at Hillcrest.

Docker said even craftsmen at home shows have mistaken Amtico’s wood flooring for laminated real wood, and she’s seen couples have arguments over what it is.

Flexibility, versatility and durability are Amtico’s biggest draws. Because of the vast designs, variations and colors available, virtually every floor has a custom-designed look. Plus it’s easy to care for and continues looking good after years of heavy traffic, said Docker.

The product is also attractive to the environmentally conscious because they can get a natural look, knowing that forests weren’t chopped down or that quarries weren’t raped of their marble. Plus all waste produced during manufacturing of the product is recycled and used on the bottom two layers of the flooring, said Docker.

The flooring is composed of five layers, said Harbour. The bottom two layers are made of recycled polyvinyl chloride, the third layer is color or the design, and the top two layers are clear. The clear layers give depth to the flooring’s design, creating a more realistic look.

Designers find it an exciting product because they’re able to create virtually any design. You can have a Mona Lisa on your kitchen floor, if that’s what you want, said an Amtico representative.

In homes, the most popular room to use Amtico is the kitchen, followed by the bathrooms, then entryhalls and family rooms, said Harbour.

Businesses choose the flooring for its durability, but also to add a distinctive touch to a standard design or to incorporate the company’s logo or name, said Docker.

“Depending on the design used, the color, the product, you can create any feel. For an Old World look, you can use the marbles or woods. If you want to go really way out, you can use the metallics and a wacky border,” said Docker. “It’s such a fun product to work with because you can cut it into almost any shape that the designer wants.”

At a natural history museum, for instance, dinosaur footprints in the Amtico flooring lead to the dinosaur exhibit, and one designer created a 33-by-33 Monopoly board out of the flooring for a toy shop, said Docker.

Amtico uses a computer-aided design process and advanced cutting techniques that enable designers and their clients to custom design their own floor, to reproduce a design to scale or to modify existing designs, she said.

Once a customer selects a floor, the order is custom cut and sent to the retail dealer – Tri-County Flooring America. The dealer receives custom and standard designs in numbered pieces and installs the floor much like putting together a puzzle. Depending on prep work, a job usually takes around three days to complete, said Harbour.

Because the flooring designs are all made from the same product, woods can be combined with marbles, granites, metallics and so on, in virtually seamless borders, patterns and motifs, said Docker.

The flooring is warmer underfoot than marble or tile, and because it’s resilient it’s more comfortable to walk on and offers more traction. Compared to real wood flooring, Amtico wood won’t warp, doesn’t need sanding or refinishing and resists heel marks and indentations, said Harbour.

Each design collection can be cut to any size or shape or can be ordered in standard sizes. For example, the wood collection is available in standard plank sizes from 3-by-36 inches to 9-by-39 inches. The granite collection is available in standard 12-by-12-inch, 12-by-18-inch and 18-by-18-inch tiles. Accent squares and stripping, which can be used between tiles and planks, can be custom cut and are available in standard sizes from 36-by-1/8 inches to 36-by-3/4 inches.

Some collections are available in both smooth and textured surfaces. Standard borders and motifs are available in any combination of colors.

Prices begin at $9 a square foot, including installation, for standard designs, and range from $9 to $11 and higher for custom designs. Condition of the original floor’s surface can raise the price.

Home upkeep an investment in the future

It starts with a small drip in a bathroom faucet, or a couple of curling roof tiles.

But left untouched, the dripping faucet and peeling tiles can become a homeowner’s nightmare of extensive property damage and big repair bills.

Maintenance problems can reduce the value of a home and even stall a sale, real estate executives said.

Poor overall maintenance was rated one of the five problems most frequently found during home buyers’ pre-purchase inspections, according to a recent survey by the American Society of Home Inspectors.

The Arlington Heights, Ill.-based trade association said many homeowners end up hiring contractors to perform major and costly repairs for problems that could have been avoided through preventive maintenance.

Maintenance can be as simple as mopping the bathroom after a shower to prevent water damage, said Mark Shuey Sr., president of Real Estate Structural Inspection Service, established in Nevada in 1981.

“When people take a shower, the water often leaks around the front of the tub past the curtain and it causes dry rot. If they’d mop up after showering, they’d prevent a lot of water damage,” Shuey said.

Water damage and dry rot are major problems that can be prevented with simple maintenance and quick repairs when a problem develops, he said.

Dry rot is a fungous decay that causes wood to become brittle and crumble to powder. It is caused by the constant presence of water on wood surfaces.

“Dry rot can cause major structural problems to a house. It’s best to try to prevent it instead of having to do major repairs later. I’ve known of situations where the walls had to be torn out and replaced,” Shuey said.

Repairs can cost hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars, he said.

Over time, plumbing can fail, leading to water leaks and damaged walls, ceilings and flooring, home inspectors said. If you want to replace flooring in your home, please visit Hudson flooring store.

Homeowners who smell a foul odor, particularly a moldy odor, in or near bathrooms or the kitchen, probably have the beginnings of a dry-rot problem and should attend to it immediately, they said.

Landscaping sprinkler systems are a major cause of problems that could be easily prevented, said Scott Mitchell, owner and president of National Property Inspections, which he established in Las Vegas three years ago after working as a home inspector in New York.

“The sprinkler systems are too close to the house and there’s too many heads close together. People overwater, and the sprinklers damage the stucco and in some cases the foundation and sill plate,” Mitchell said.

Before the damage sets in, homeowners can solve the problem by eliminating about 30 percent or more of their sprinklers and using low-volume sprinkler heads, Mitchell said.

Also, wood trim and roof eaves take a beating from sun and moisture from nearby sprinklers. They should be repainted often to preserve the wood, inspectors said.

Many people are not aware of problems in their home, he said.

“I inspected a home … it was three years old and in good condition … but when I checked the attic, there was no insulation. The homeowners were new to the area and didn’t know that their air conditioning bills were too high,” Mitchell said.

Electrical problems, including improperly installed and unsafe wiring, are also common and can lead to serious damage, including fire.

“I advise people to hire a licensed electrician for any work on the electrical systems in their homes. I’ve seen a lot of do-it-yourself wiring that’s not completed,” Mitchell said.

Home inspectors advise property owners to check their homes for maintenance problems at least once a year and quickly tend to any problems that are developing.

“Walk around the roof and inspect it. Tiles come loose. Not every tile is nailed down. They need to be checked,” said Mark Lorusso, owner of Home Smart Inspections.

Lorusso said that about 75 percent of the homes he inspects are well maintained, but he sees problems with property that is rented.

Maintenance problems can reduce the value of a home, said longtime local real estate appraiser Kelly Wade, a principal of Wade & Associates.

“Generally speaking, you always have a loss of value because of inferior maintenance. The loss is typically equal to or greater than the cost of repair,” Wade said.

A poorly maintained home is unattractive to prospective buyers and is difficult to sell, said longtime local Realtor Jack Matthews.

“Many of the resale properties remain on the market for extended periods of time because of the lack of maintenance,” Matthews said. “Buyers take an offensive attitude because they believe everything in the house hasn’t been maintained.”

Matthews said property owners who plan to sell should attend to all maintenance and repairs, including property cleanup, to ensure a quick sale.

Many people get used to living with the problems in their home and no longer realize they’re a problem, he said.

“They live with it every day; they get used to it. They don’t realize that it’s going to be offensive to a buyer.”

Ceramic Tile is a natural for outdoors

While ceramic tile is much appreciated for kitchens, baths and other hard-working rooms around the house, it deserves to be better known for its usefulness outdoors.

Tile is made of clays, so it’s a natural material and perfect for the garden and yard, explains Peter Johnson, Jr., head of Summitville Tiles. In addition, ceramic tile requires little maintenance and its durability is well documented All over Europe, Asia and Africa one sees tile work that’s hundreds of years old.

Decks, patio, barbecues, fountains and walks are just a few of the garden features where tile can be used to great advantage.

We need to rethink the deck, says Johnson. Yes, it is nice to have an “outdoor living room”, but wood is getting scarcer, and it needs constant upkeep.

“A tiled patio makes much more sense. It will always look great, and it’ll only need occasional sweeping and hosing down.

Suitable products for patios, pool decks and walks included quarry tile and ceramic paving bricks.

COLOR SCHEMING

Today, quarry tiles come in many colors besides the well-known terra-cotta reds and browns, and that’s something to keep in mind when you plan your landscaping. For example, Summitville offers such variations as Palomino, Oxford Gray, Harbor Blue and Wintergreen.

They are all subtle and earthy, so they are easy to work into a garden scheme, and yet they challenge the imagination in the new ways.

According to Summitville, few people consider color coordination outdoors, but that’s precisely why professionally designed gardens look so glorious.

For instance, a patio and walk featuring sand-colored quarry tiles would be an interesting choice for a contemporary beach have surrounded by dunes and ornamental grasses. And Wintergreen, a soft sage green, would be the perfect background for color for a New England herb garden or, for that matter, for desert cacti and silvery succulent plants.

TILE CREATIVITY

For special design interest, two or more tile colors may be combined to form borders or patterns. This is a technique much used in the mosaics work of old-world artisans, but it is just as effective when larger sizes are used.

Actually, the effect is bolder and much more suitable for today’s home styles, explains Johnson. We find that increasing numbers of landscape designers employ this technique, and there’s no reason why handy do-it-yourselfers shouldn’t give it a try as well.

A border outlining a patio is enough to set it apart from any other on the block. Over-all designs are easy to come by, too. For example, folkloric designs abound these days. You can find them in rugs, wallpaper and fabrics, and since they are usually based on geometric motifs, they are quite easy to adapt to tile patterns.

However, Summitville’s designers warn against using a lot of vivid colors and overly busy patterns.

Remember, your tile patio is almost certain to last as long as your house, they say. You’re safe with soft colors like those featured in Summitvile’s quarry tiles, but an over-abundance of strong color and pattern will tire the eye after a while.

TILED POOLS AND TUBS

But don’t limit-backyard tile use to walks and patios. How about a tiled hot tub? The advantage of creating it in tie is that the tub can be any shape, size and color. Or how about a small garden pool for water lilies or fish? Remember, water features are endlessly fascinating and landscape designers agree that they tend to cool sultry summer months.

Tiling the barbecue pit makes a lot of sense. Here, glazed tile is in order, for you want a surface that will shun grease and wipe clean with the swipe of a sponge.

Salad dressing: low-fat, homemade, delicious

The average salad dressing can fatten up an otherwise nonfat salad more than you might think. A ladle at most salad bars holds two to six tablespoons of dressing. Since most regular dressings contain 6 to 8 grams of fat and 75 calories per tablespoon, a large ladle may give you 48 grams of fat and 450 calories. That’s as much fat as someone on a 1,500-calorie daily diet should eat in an entire day. Salad dressing is one of the leading sources of fat in the American diet, especially for women aged 19 to 50, according to USDA surveys.

Most commercial dressings, whether creamy or oily, are primarily fat, with 85% of their calories coming from the oil they’re made with – usually soybean oil. Some dressings also contain eggs, cream, and cheese.

Dressing for success

* Try one of the many new fat-free dressings sold in supermarkets. They have only 5 to 20 calories per tablespoon (but as much as 200 milligrams of sodium). Water is usually the first ingredient, followed by vinegar, some form of sugar (such as corn syrup), spices, and sometimes lemon juice or tomato paste.

* Make your own lower-fat vinegar-and-oil dressing. The classic recipe for vinaigrette calls for a three-to-one ratio of oil to vinegar: that’s about 90 calories per tablespoon. Instead try a one-to-one–or even lower–ratio. It helps to use a flavorful oil, such as olive, sesame, or walnut, so you’ll need less. (All oils have the same number of calories and amount of fat.)

* Stretch your dressing with broth, fruit or vegetable juice, wine, or honey. Mayonnaise can be thinned with lemon juice, vinegar, plain nonfat yogurt, or tomato puree.

* For thick, creamy dressings, experiment with a low-fat or even nonfat product (yogurt, sour cream, or mayonnaise) as a base. For instance, nonfat yogurt flavored with herbs and spices makes a good basic dressing. You can also try buttermilk, evaporated skim milk, or pureed cottage cheese as a base.

* Try using no oil at all. Some people like plain lemon or lime juice. Try salsa (you can blend it with nonfat yogurt). Or sprinkle your salad with a mild vinegar–balsamic, rice, or wine vinegar, or one flavored with fruit or herbs. Experiment with combinations of tomato puree or tomato juice, plain nonfat yogurt or buttermilk, apple juice, lemon or lime juice, dry or prepared mustard, minced or crushed garlic or onion, herbs, cumin, curry powder, and hot pepper sauce or Worcestershire in small amounts. When you find a combination you like, you can make a batch and refrigerate it.

* In restaurants, ask for the gluten free salad dressing on the side, and measure it with a teaspoon, not a tablespoon.