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Bank of America

Safety upgrades and modest remodeling are good investments

The annual "Cost vs. Value" article published annually by Remodeling Magazine gives consumers a look at the average price—and the return on investment—of all the most popular types of remodels.

In 2005, the word was that the average return on a remodeling project was in the high 90 percentile. At the same time the average cost of a kitchen remodel nationwide was $108,000.

In 2006, the 19th annual cost vs. value report shows, housing sales slowed and remodeling did, too. The survey, published last November, said that returns on remodeling investment in 2006 had plummeted from the 90s to the 70s, a whopping 20 percent drop.

Remodeling is still going strong, but with the slowdown in new home sales, most consumers have become reluctant to invest in higher-end products—expensive finishes such as fancy faucets and flooring, for example.

The word among those in the industry is: Don't expect customers to pay $700 to $900 for a faucet, because the ones most desired now are closer to the middle in price, $200 to $300.

We have trouble believing that anyone would spend more than $200 on a faucet anyway.

Nonetheless, now you know the industry buzz.

Keep in mind that our faucet example also applies to finish choices folks are making as they remodel. Other features and finishes offered at the upper end of the price scale included expensive tile and custom hardwood floors, and bathrooms with fireplaces.

But is remodeling still a good investment?

You bet, as good as ever. However, you may want to think out exactly what you want to spend on your remodel before making the final decision. Currently, more modest investments in finish items are getting the best return.

Our recommendations:

  • Before tackling any major remodeling project, first invest in safety upgrades. Make sure that your electrical and gas systems are in premium condition and that they comply with the most current electrical and plumbing codes. Ask your local building department to inspect your home and advise you on what repairs will make your home safest for you and your family. You may have to pay a small fee, but nothing like the cost of losing your home to a fire or an explosion.

Don't forget smoke alarms and CO2 detectors. If you don't have them, add them. If you do have them, bring them up to date—smoke detectors stop detecting after 10 years.

  • Next, comes energy efficiency: Invest in compact fluorescent light bulbs, furnace cleaning and maintenance, and appliance replacement—new ones are a great deal less expensive to operate.
  • Finally, don't forget general home maintenance. A roof leak may cost $450 dollars to have repaired, but if left unchecked it could end up doing thousands of dollars in damage.


Safety, energy and maintenance repairs are not considered remodels. A remodel is not tax-deductible against a home's capital gain.

A repair is deductible. That's because a remodel is considered (by the government) as an improvement to conditions where a repair, even if it is an upgrade, brings the home back to its normal condition.

Once your home is safe, energy-efficient and properly maintained, remodel the master bath and kitchen. Of all possible remodels, they have always been top of the list.

You'll never want to leave once those two areas of your home are up to snuff.

The cost vs. value report covered 25 popular remodeling projects performed in 60 US cities. The report itself can be found on the official Realtors website.

Post-holiday Rehab for Your Home

If you're like most people, chances are you did some entertaining during the holiday season. Though the Christmas decorations are down and the candy, cookies and treats devoured, there are probably telltale signs that have left your home looking a little worse for the wear.

Some of the most common visual holiday leftovers include indentions in carpeting from the Christmas tree stand and rearranged furniture; drops of candle wax on carpet, upholstery, mantles and tabletops; carpet and flooring spots and stains; and white rings and/or dents on dining tables and other fine furniture.

Getting your home back into shape could be a daunting task were it not for simple solutions we have collected over the years. So here are some of them to help you get past post-holiday cleaning blues.

_Curing dented carpet: You've taken your Christmas tree down and put your furniture back into place only to discover that your carpet is dotted with dimples that weren't there before the holidays. You've tried vacuuming, with no success.

All you need is a clean white terry cloth and a clothes iron. Lightly dampen the cloth, place it over the affected areas, one at a time, and with the iron on medium heat, iron over the cloth for about 30 seconds. Remove iron and cloth, allow the carpet to cool slightly and ''rake'' the fibers with your fingers.

The steam generated by this process will help the fibers regain their original condition. More than one treatment may be required for stubborn areas.

If this solution doesn't do the trick, a good steam cleaning is in order. You'll get a two-for-one bonus with steam cleaning: no more dimples, plus, the holiday spots and spills will be a distant memory.

_Carpet spots and spills: If you don't have dimples in your carpet, but you do have stains, we have remedies.

Red wine is one of the most common post-party cleaning challenges. There's a simple process that can be used to get rid of a red-wine stain, though it may take a several attempts to eliminate it. And keep in mind that this is a process to use on a fresh, wet stain. It probably will not work on an old, dried stain.

Pour a liberal amount of table salt directly onto the wine stain, letting the crystals soak up the wine. Vacuum up the salt, then pour club soda or water onto the spot and blot with paper towels or even a clean terry cloth. Repeat this process until the stain is completely gone.

To clean up chewing gum, put ice cubes in a plastic bag and freeze the gum stuck in the carpet. When it's hard, scrape it off with a butter knife.

For greasy stuff like lipstick, blot up excess with paper towels, and then use dry-cleaning fluid.

For pet stains, blot excess and then use a mixture of laundry detergent, ammonia and white vinegar. For shoe polish and ink stains, dab with paint thinner. For fruit juice and soft drink spills, mix one teaspoon each of laundry detergent and white vinegar into one quart of warm water, and sponge the stain well with the mixture. For burns, trim off burnt fibers and, if needed, glue in extra fibers cut from rug edges.

Many carpet manufacturers offer free stain-removal pamphlets as part of their customer-service program. If your carpet's manufacturer does not offer this service, check with the people who installed the carpet for you. They may offer a generic stain-removal guide that works effectively with the material used for your carpet.

_Cleaning up candle wax: Who doesn't love a home filled with the glow and fragrance of holiday candles? The problem is that with candles come wax and spills on carpet, upholstery, mantels and other surfaces.

Removing candle wax is really pretty simple. You'll need a brown-paper sack and a clothes iron. First remove excess wax, with a wooden popsicle stick or a dull butter knife. Chilling the wax with an ice cube first will make scraping it off a lot easier.

Sweep up what you have removed and place the brown-paper bag over what remains. Next, place the iron, set on medium-high heat, onto the paper sack and work it back and forth, not allowing it to rest in place.

You will be amazed to see the wax drawn in by the paper. Use different sections of the sack to absorb all the wax and to prevent spreading it. Though this solution will work especially well on carpet and fabrics, it can be used on flooring and furniture as well. Just be sure to use less heat or substitute a blow dryer for the iron.

_Getting the white out of that ring: It simply wouldn't be the holidays without getting white rings on the dining-room table or other fine furniture.

Contrary to popular belief, a white ring results from damage to the waxed finish and not to the wood. Here's a trick to remove these nasty rings. First, make sure that the surface is clean and dry. Next, place a small amount of mayonnaise directly over the ring. Cover the area with a piece of plastic wrap and allow it to sit for about 30 minutes. Remove the plastic wrap and lightly rub the mayonnaise into the finish using a nylon scouring pad and working in the direction of the grain. Wipe up all the mayonnaise with a soft cloth and restore the luster to the area with some lemon oil or paste wax.

_Dealing with furniture and flooring dents: Dents in furniture and flooring run a close second to white rings. Errant tableware can leave quite unsightly marks. Before you attempt to fill a dent with furniture putty, try getting the damage to disappear with the following magic trick.

Dents are only depressions in the surface; the fibers of the wood aren't broken, and if it's only crushed or pushed-in, it's a fairly simple repair using ''steaming.'' Put a drop of water in the dent, cover it with a soft, dry cloth and then apply a hot iron for a few seconds. If it's still there, do it a few more times. Try it a try: You'll be surprised how steaming can make dents disappear.

If the depressed area doesn't come up, it's a gouge. With a gouge, the fibers might be torn and wood might be missing. A small gouge can be filled with colored wax, wood compound or putty. Often, however, for a really good match for a deep gouge you'll need the help of a pro.

Now, with your home back in shape you can really have a happy new year.

Combatting Leaks and Wet Basements

Water - the substance that is so precious to life, the stuff that keeps our grass green, our dishes clean and our toilets flushing - is one of the biggest threats to the home.

Most people at one time or another have experienced damage to their home from water. A leaking roof, rotted siding, fungus-covered floor framing and a wet basement are a few examples of how water can harm a home. Even what might seem the least significant of leaks can cause major damage. For example, a pin- hole leak in a piece of roof flashing can soak attic insulation causing the ceiling to stain and sag. The water-soaked insulation can also cause surrounding wood framing to rot by means of capillary action. Or the waterlogged insulation can condense, allowing water vapor to attack other parts of the attic.

This scenario can be played out in virtually every area of the home where water is a threat. An area that is most susceptible to leaks and water damage is the basement. It doesn't take a physicist to figure out why this is the case. A basement is, by design, embedded into the earth. As such, it is a magnet for any water that might be present around the home such as that produced by rain or irrigation.

In addition to the rot discussed earlier, a wet basement can cause the foundation to heave, resulting in cracks over windows and doors and out-of-level floors. This can happen even if your home doesn't have a basement. A wet crawlspace or water under a concrete slab can be equally threatening.

The best defense against a wet basement, whether crawlspace or foundation, is a strong offense - water control. Water control - also referred to as watershed or drainage - is no one-trick pony. There are several elements to a well-integrated and effective system.

Before grabbing your pick and shovel and heading out to the back forty to install a French drain - which, by the way, you might ultimately need - we suggest that you begin conquering your water problem by tackling a few less-intimidating tasks.

If you don't have rain gutters at the edge of your roof, install them. If you do, make sure that they are in good condition, and clean them periodically to ensure that they are doing a good job.

The same goes for downspouts. Repair or replace rusted, dented or damaged downspouts and, as with gutters, be sure that they are clean. Use a garden hose with a spray nozzle and a small plumber's snake to clear any blockage, and flush debris out of the downspouts.

Consider installing gutter and/or downspout screens if you have lots of trees that overhang your roof.

A downspout never should be allowed to terminate at the base of the foundation. At a minimum, a precast plastic or concrete diverter ("splashblock") should be installed immediately below the downspout to divert water away from the foundation. Alternative methods include drainage pipe laid on the ground which will carry water at least 20 feet away from the home. The best alternative is to install drainpipe below ground that will carry all downspout-generated water to a municipal storm drain or other central-collection system.

The dirt (or concrete) surrounding your home should be graded AWAY from the foundation. A good rule is at least a quarter of an inch per foot. When regrading soil to achieve this slope, be sure to recompact the soil, otherwise it will erode with the first rain.

If you have a window well for a window in your basement, be sure that it is well sealed. Consider installing gravel surrounding the well to permit good drainage.

Ventilation is key to controlling moisture and musty odors in a basement or crawlspace. Overgrown shrubs surrounding the house can keep ventilation ports from doing their job. Thus, all trees and shrubs surrounding the house should be regularly thinned.

Cracks in concrete foundations should be patched or caulked. Deteriorating mortar in brick or block foundations should be tuckpointed.

Consider installing a drainage sump with a pump that will eject water to the exterior. If your basement is still wet after following our advice, we suggest that you enlist the services of a geotechnical or "soils" engineer. He or she is best able to assess the conditions causing the problem and make specific recommendations that will dry out your basement or crawlspace once and for all.


One simple step you can do to create a better balance in your life: READ LABELS

Shop wisely to avoid a range of ailments now attributed to the overuse of refined sugars, trans fats, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated foods. 

The manufacturers will try to trick you by disguising these items under different names.  For example: fractionated palm kernel oil is just another way of hiding trans fats. Where they are listed makes a big difference. The bigger portions are always listed first. These fats are alien to your body.  You cannot get rid of them. That oreo cookie you had in January, is still in your system, July of that same year.  They have been attributed to a host of problems including the formation of plaque.

Look at the label for sugar content, and try to keep it as low as possible. Again, this can be tricky. Avoid the obvious, limit your intake of sodas, juices, sweetend teas, coffees, sugary cereals and candy.

Sugar hides on ingredient labels under many different names. Look for:
• lactose
• fructose
• high fructose corn syrup*
• evaporated cane juice invert syrup
• barley malt
• brown rice syrup
• corn syrup
• dextrose
• fruit juice
• galactose
• glucose
• honey
• maltodextrin
• maple syrup
• molasses
• organic cane juice sorghum
• sucrose
• turbinado

Sugars will create an insulin spike, that over time will make you insulin resistant. Insulin is a storage hormone.  Most of these calories will go into your reserve energy supplies, mainly your fat cells.  An important fact to remember, is that cancer cells have 6 to 10 times the number of insulin cell receptor sites as normal cells. High levels of insulin is to cancer cells like pouring gas on a fire. The most common and the one that will spike your insulin levels the highest, is high fructose corn syrup.  Try to avoid it.

Last but not least, limit your intake of processed foods.  Foods that are packaged, boxed and shrink-wrapped. The vitamin content, phytoneutrients and fiber have been removed.   They also contain preservatives, artificial colors and/or dyes. On the plus side, look for foods with high fiber content.Try to get at least 25 to 35 grams of fiber every day.

For more fitness tips and to order a copy of my ‘Living Proof’ DVD, go to

Live long and prosper!