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Diamond in the desert: A remodeler's remodel

We’ve had a fascination with building and fixing things since we were kids. Our great grandfather was a plumbing contractor, our grandfather was a general contractor and our dad was just plain handy. So, its no surprise that we ended up as partners in our own construction company and have been building and remodeling for over 25 years.

We recently had the opportunity to strap on our tools and renovate a vintage early 1980s two-bedroom, two-bath family vacation home in Palm Desert, Calif. We thought that you might enjoy a "behind-the-scenes" look at the "remodelers remodel."

The kitchen: The vintage "early '80s" kitchen consisted of Euro-style almond plastic laminate cabinets with oak trim and stark white ceramic tile counters. The floor was covered with salmon-colored 6-by-6-inch ceramic tile and had no base. The major appliances were a hodge-podge mix of black-on-black and almond. The old sink consisted of enameled steel and the faucet was a powder coated single lever spray spout. Although they were in fair condition, they definitely needed to be replaced in order to accommodate the new satin nickel theme. Though the finishes were essentially in good shape, the kitchen, as was the case with the remainder of the home, was in dire need of an "updated" look and modern features.

The new cabinets are clear finish maple with traditional "style and rail" construction and solid raised panel doors with concealed Euro hinges. The pulls are a sleek satin nickel to match the sink faucet and trim. The new countertops are rich slab granite with a handsome bull nose edge detail. Diagonally set matching granite tile (with black granite diamond accents) was used to create a full backsplash. The new appliances are a mix of stainless steel and black. Unlike the old refrigerator, the new side-by-side refrigerator is "counter depth" and does not protrude beyond the face of the cabinets, for a more "built-in" look.

"Clean-up Central" is a cross between form and function. The spectacular sink and faucet trim are made by Moen. They're stylish, functional and a decorator's dream comes true. Only Moen could redefine the stainless steel sink. The durable, high quality 18-gauge Lancelot® sink is under-mounted below the granite for a sleek look and easy-to-clean configuration. The sink features SoundShield undercoating for sound deadening, which reduces noise at the sink.

The sink trim is a stunning combination of Moen product with a distinctive satin nickel finish. The Moen® Aberdeen™ faucet has an 8-1/2" spout length reach, 15" height, and full spout swing for great sink coverage. Plus, an independent pause button on the pullout wand turns water off and on as needed outside the sink area. Matching decorative accessories in the satin nickel finish include a pump soap dispenser, air gap and high arc purified water dispenser -- all deck mounted. The PureTouch® AquaSuite® water filter system (located at the far right of the sink) provides a convenient way for your whole family to get great tasting filtered water for drinking and cooking. Your whole family can benefit from filtered water in the home.

The look of a natural travertine tile floor was achieved with 16-inch square Italian porcelain tiles. Porcelain offers all of the beauty of travertine with none of the maintenance. A painted wood base with a decorative profile was used throughout to complete the job and tie all the finishes together.

The master bath: The acrylic oval tub was spacious, but was worn and discolored and lacked a whirlpool. The tile shower walls, though in fair condition, were glued directly to the wallboard -- presenting a potential water damage condition. The faucet and shower head were "builder's basic," offering little convenience. The original vanity, mirror, vanity light, cabinet and double bowl configuration were spacious, but dated and worn. The cabinet was a laminated particle board and the countertop consisted of a man-made cultured marble with two integral bowls. The faucets were "builders basic" two-handle with a polished chrome finish. The shag carpeted floor was also dated and difficult to maintain in the bathroom.

The old tub was replaced with a new luxury whirlpool tub with six adjustable jets. The shower/tub faucet configuration is as good as it gets with Moen's new Monticello® Vertical Spa Set with ExactTemp® thermostatic preassure-balancing Valve and Five Function Transfer Valve all with a satine nickel finish. The five-function valve operates the various functions simply and easily. This luxurious showering experience consists of four body sprays, and adjustable shower head, a convenient hand shower with a 30-inch slide bar and a prominent Moen Monticello deck-mounted Roman tub spout.

New 12-inch square porcelain Italian tile with a warm neutral tone was used at the shower surround and at the tub skirt. The tile walls travel to the ceiling and are installed in a floated bed of mortar for extra water protection and a smooth, uniform finish. Matching copper decos were strategically placed along the walls and skirt to add interest and decorating flair. A new shower enclosure with clear glass and a coordinating satin nickel frame finishes the job.

Like the kitchen, the footprint of the master bath remained the same. However, the new finishes made a dramatic finish on the feel and comfort of the space. A new clear-finish maple vanity with raised panel doors, Euro hinges and sleek pulls was installed in the same location as the previous vanity. The top is ¾-inch slab granite with a four-inch splash. The sink openings are polished to accommodate the under mount vitreous china bowls.

The two handle bathroom sink faucets by Moen are part of their stylish Monticello® collection which allow for a widespread installation from 8 to 16-inch centers. The design consists of a dramatic high arc spout, classic lever handles and a matching drain assembly. A decorative split finish of polished brass and satin nickel was used for added design flair.

Matching bath accessories towel bars, towel ring, tissue dispenser and robe hook were installed to perfectly coordinate with the Moen Monticello faucets in split finish. A new mirror, high-end medicine cabinet with full mirrored interior, new mirrored wardrobe doors with satin nickel trim and, of course, a new water-efficient toilet rounded out the space.

The living area: It is very Southwestern and also very dated. We essentially stripped everything from the space with the exception of the wallboard and the windows and sliding patio doors. Everything went -- cabinets, carpet and pad and interior doors, trim and hardware. We even removed the acoustic or "popcorn" ceiling to bring the space into the new millennium.

The difference in the look and feel of the space is unbelievable. The ceiling was finished to match the walls a light "orange peel" spray texture. We chose "Swiss coffee" as the color to be used on the ceilings throughout. It is bright and cheery and coordinates well with the other earthy colors used throughout. New wall-to-wall carpet and pad with a sculptured pattern was used throughout with the exception of the kitchen, bathrooms, laundry and entry. The color is rich and goes well with both "hard finishes" and furnishings. Several trips to various furniture retailers produced a delightful, well-pulled-together look that is both attractive and comfortable.

Kickoff to Rebuild Project in Jacksonville, FL

During the broadcast Morris and James interviewed some of the boys and girls who are club members and who also took part in the renovation. Others that made an appearance behind the On The House mic were major corporate sponsors of the event, and even a few well-known celebs who were on hand to help out.

First up to talk with the Carey Bros. was Chan Tagliabue, Chairperson of the event and wife of the NFL Chairman Paul Tagliabue. The Tagliabues have been ardent supporters of Rebuilding Together for over 20 years. In addition, the NFL makes incredible contributions every year, not only monetarily, but with the help of NFL greats who are ready and willing to wield a paintbrush or man a shovel.

Patty Johnson, President of Rebuilding Together stopped by to tell our listeners how it all got started and to offer updates on the progress of the renovation project. Also, Jim Scheikofer, publisher of The Family Handyman and American Woodworker magazines brought his crew to Jacksonville to lend a hand. Even Miss America, Deedra Downs, was there to paint a few walls! Fortunately, she didn't break a one of her beautiful nails!

You can learn more about Rebuilding Together by visiting their website at

Avoiding Remodeling Pitfalls

One of the reasons people remodel their homes is to improve comfort. Unfortunately, the process can be anything but comfortable, if not downright chaotic.

If you're planning to remodel your kitchen or bathroom or to add on much needed space, we have some advice.

We have made our living for more than 20 years as remodeling contractors. During that time, we have helped hundreds of homeowners transform their remodeling dreams into a reality.

Whether we're talking with a prospective client or addressing consumers at a home and garden show, we always begin our discussion by stating the three most important steps of a remodeling project. They are, in order of importance, planning, planning and, you guessed it, planning. We believe that planning is the best defense against things going awry. It is much easier on the pocketbook, construction schedule and nerves to move a wall on the drawing board using an eraser than to tear out the real McCoy using a hammer and prybar.

Seat-of-the-pants planning is risky. Most decisions should be made before the first nail is driven. Size, design, finish selections (doors, hardware, plumbing fixtures, appliances, counters, cabinets, flooring, paint colors, etc.), schedule (commencement and completion dates), contract language (yes, there should be a contract) and, last but not least, cost are among the many details that should be worked out before signing on the bottom line. Pressure from a contractor to begin a job right away and make decisions along the way is a recipe for disaster. Run the other way when someone suggests doing this.

Part of good planning is making decisions that will give you the best bang for your buck. Some people think they can save money by performing some of the remodeling tasks themselves or by using home-center “bargain basement” products such as plumbing fixtures, lighting and paint. Be careful not be penny-wise and pound-foolish. For example, some homeowners will try to save money by reusing plumbing fixtures and appliances. The old stuff might not look bad in its original setting, but with new walls and fixtures, an old tub or appliance can look mighty ugly. The few hundred dollars that you save in purchasing a new fixture can cost you thousands in the long run in diminished value. Not to mention the fact that an old appliance might not be energy-efficient, or repair parts might be impossible to find.

The design of your project has a tremendous impact on how it is perceived and, hence, its value. Installing basic cabinets and counters and expensive ceramic tile on the floor is ill-advised. This creates a mix of low-end and high-end finishes. It would be better to spend less on the floor and more on the cabinets and counters...for uniformity. The same mistake is often made when choosing appliances. Avoid picking one high-end product and then choosing mid- or bottom-tier items to keep your budget intact. This approach gives an imbalanced look to the room. A better solution is to start with more affordable products across the board.

Painting is one of the most popular do-it-yourself tasks. Almost anyone can paint, or so they think. You can buy the most beautiful doors and trim, and have the best wall finish, and destroy them with a substandard finish. When it comes to painting, the mistake that most people make is buying bargain-basement paint. If you buy cheap paint, you'll be applying coat after coat trying to get the paint to cover. Cheap paint has cheap ingredients. It requires more coats for good coverage, fades more quickly, won't wash well and will require repainting sooner. Buy high-quality, brand-name paint.

Need to cut costs? Consider using less expensive finishes that mimic the more expensive stuff. For example, some modern plastic laminate counter patterns can look exactly like natural granite. Keep in mind that, if necessary, counters can be replaced down the road when dollars permit. The places not to cut corners are in the walls with plumbing and electrical. Installing extra outlets and wiring for extra phone and fax lines and running cable for televisions and computers can cost pennies on the dollar while walls are open. Doing so after the fact can cost a lot.

For more information on how to get the most for your remodeling dollar and how to get through a remodeling project unscathed, pick up a copy of our book...“Home Remodeling for Dummies.”

Ridding Your Home of Unpleasant Odors

Ironically, most unpleasant odors can be eliminated using a few common household products. Baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice, rubbing alcohol and cat litter can do more to freshen the air than a battery of caustic cleaning products.

One fundamental element in preventing unpleasant odors from returning is to eliminate the source. Be careful about what you throw into the garbage pail. Empty food cans should be thoroughly rinsed before they are tossed into the trash. Fruit and vegetable peels should be fully ground in the garbage disposal or placed in a compost pile. Never put wet garbage into household trash.

Another effective means of keeping a house smelling fresh is to have lots of ventilation - fresh air. It isn't enough to open a window now and then. Open closet doors and dresser drawers regularly. Never place damp clothing into a closet or dresser drawer.

Aside from its primary use for our feline friends, cat litter is an especially effective odor-dispeller throughout the house. Its clay composition gives it magnet-like properties when it comes to absorbing foul odors. Freshen a musty trunk by pouring cat litter into a large, uncovered coffee can. Place the can into the trunk and close the trunk lid. In most cases the odor will be gone overnight.

Cat litter also can eliminate odors in garbage cans. Simply sprinkle a couple of inches of the cat litter into the bottom of the can. Replenish the cat litter each time the can is dumped.

And, believe it or not, cat litter acts as an excellent absorbent for foul odors in the refrigerator. But, if cat litter next to food bothers you, substitute baking soda. Place a small dish or bowl filled with baking soda on one of the refrigerator shelves. It works just as well in the freezer. Baking soda has lots of other odor-eliminating applications. You can remove odors and spills inside the refrigerator or freezer using a cloth dipped in a solution of two tablespoons of baking soda in one quart of warm water, and then wrung out.

Baking soda in combination with table salt, vinegar and boiling water acts as an environmentally friendly drain cleaner/odor eliminator. Pour one cup of table salt, one cup of baking soda, one cup of white vinegar along with two quarts or boiling water into a drain. We suggest that you do this at bedtime in order to allow the solution to remain in the P-trap and drain overnight. Perform this routine about once a month for clog-free, fresh-smelling drains.

Freshen a smelly garbage disposal by grinding sections of oranges, lemons or grapefruit while flushing the unit with warm water. Another safe method of cleaning the garbage disposal is the use of ice cubes made of vinegar and water. Pour one cup of vinegar into an empty ice cube tray. Fill the balance of the tray with water, and freeze. Grind the vinegar cubes in the disposal. The vinegar acts as a cleaning agent while the ice sharpens the blades.

One of the least pleasant and most difficult household odors to remedy comes from pet urine. Urine has a tendency to permeate an entire home. Urine-soaked carpets should be professionally cleaned. Severe cases might require carpet and pad replacement. Concrete or wood flooring below the carpet and pad should be sterilized with a solution of one cup of bleach in one gallon of hot water. If the odor persists, the area should be sealed with a coat or two of shellac. White vinegar works especially well on concrete that has been tainted by urine. Scrub the area with a solution consisting of half white vinegar and half warm water. Or, put undiluted denatured alcohol in a spray bottle and spray the floor thoroughly.

White vinegar also can be used to get rid of strong cooking odors. Place a pan of white vinegar on the stove and let it simmer.

To remove fish, garlic and onion odors, wash utensils, pans cutting boards and your hands in lemon juice.

Nothing can sour a good novel more than the musty smell that frequently emanates from old classics. To rid books of this odor, store them in a paper bag filled with crumpled newspaper. The newspaper will absorb the smell. Repeat this process several times using fresh newspaper each time.

Professor Flush Says it’s Time to Conserve Water

To quickly and easily identify toilet tank leaks, Fluidmaster offers free Leak Detector Tablets at most home improvement retailers. These easy-to-use tablets reveal a leak in minutes. Almost all toilet tank leaks can be fixed by replacing the tank’s flapper and/or fill valve­ installing both at the same time makes for an easy do-it-yourself project. Repairing leaking toilets can saves up to 100 gallons weekly for each toilet!!!

Are you doing all you can to conserve? Conserving water saves money and protects a precious resource. Here are a few tips on how you can do more to save water…

Here are a few tips on how you can do more to save water…

  1. Flush less frequently; and don’t use your toilet as a wastebasket.
  2. Replace regular 3.5-gallon or more toilets with low-flow (1.6 gpf) models. (Saves up to 350 gallons weekly)
  3. Replace old-fashioned showerheads with low-flow (2.5 gallons per minute) models. (Saves up to 230 gallons weekly)
  4. When taking a bath, make it a shallow one with no more than three inches of water. (Saves up to 100 gallons per person weekly)
  5. Don't use a running hose to "sweep" your patio, driveway or sidewalks. (Saves up to 100 gallons weekly)
  6. Rinse fresh produce in a sink or pan filled with water instead of under a running faucet. (Saves up to 30 gallons weekly)
  7. Run your garbage disposal only on alternate days. (Saves up to 25 gallons weekly)
For more of helpful hints, visit the Fluidmaster website.