Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Our NEW House2Home Podcast!

We'd like to make you all aware of a new podcast we've started based on some of the information we present in our blog!

Already we're doing various short daily radio segments, but this new podcast gives us a little more time to have fun, develop some ideas and talk about paint, decorating and home improvement without a timer ticking.

So, if you get a second (or, to be more exact, 17 minutes), check out our initial House2Home podcast. Let us know what you think and give us some suggestions for topics or for improvements!

Thanks! And, here's the link to the show....

House2Home Podcast, episode 1: Choosing the Right Contractor

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Finding the Right Contractor in 10 Easy Steps

The following has been adapted from "Ten Tips for Hiring a Painting Contractor" by the Paint Quality Institute.

Have you ever tried to find the right contractor to do some work in your home?  Have you ever lived through some of the home-remodel horror stories we hear about from time?  I read about one the other day:  a couple bought a historical home in a fancy historical section of some fancy little town somewhere--not around here--but still, a nice, quiet upscale neighborhood.  They bought a nice house and then hired a couple contractors to come in and do some work to perfect their new home.

Well, they brought one company in to do some work digging out the basement and underpinning the foundation.  (Yes, I'm sure you can see where this is going.)  This contractor, it turned out, didn't know quite as much about excavating as he had suggested to the couple.  Subsequently, he excavated so thoroughly around the home that one of the basement walls collapsed.  Which of course, caused parts of the house to collapse.  Which, of course, caused the rest of the house to collapse.  Which, consequently, was so catastrophic that it caused parts of a neighbor's house to collapse.  Everybody made it out alright, but what a mess--what a nightmare!  And what a way to start a relationship with a new neighbor:  "Hi.  I'm Tim and this is my wife Alice.  We just moved in and knocked our house down on top of yours.  Can we use your restroom?"

At any rate, that's an extreme example, but we've all heard about other situations that, while not as horrific, were still horrible, painful and depressing for the folks involved.  And because of that, many of us get nervous at the very thought of hiring somebody to do any kind of work in our home.  We wonder if we'll hire the right company.  We wonder how we'll know that the company we do hire is honest.  We wonder how we can be assured they'll do quality work and on and on and on.  
Well, because of that, I figured we'd breeze through a great list of tips based on a similar list produced by the the Paint Quality Institute.

So, without any further ado, here are 10 Ways to Make Sure You Hire the Right Contractor:

  • Number One:  PREPARE.  Before you sit down with your contractors to talk about the work, sit down with your spouse and compile a list of the work you expect to be done on a given project.  This gives you a list of specific items you can hand to each contractor to make sure nothing's forgotten and also, to make sure they're quoting on the same work.
  • Number Two:  GET MULTIPLE QUOTES.  Don't limit yourself to working with the first company you contact.  Talk to multiple contractors and get quotes from each of them.  And don't be afraid to let your contractors know that you will be getting different quotes.  You don't need to be rude about it, or use it bully someone into giving you a bottom of the barrel price, but it never hurts to be honest and let them know that they should put "their best foot forward" so to speak.
  • Number Three:  ANALYZE THE QUOTES and CLARIFY THE WORK PROCESS.  And by "analyze" I don't mean simply look at the price tag and decide from there.  I mean analyze every aspect of the quotes.  If one of your contractors gives you a quote that says "Paint Living Room for $400", you owe it to yourself to dig deeper.  Especially if the other quotes came in higher.  Make sure you find out what the contractor means when he says "Paint Living Room."  Does that mean 1 coat of paint?  Does it mean 2?  Does it mean he'll prep the walls?  Fill nail holes?  Patch dings?  Move your furniture out?  Paint around it?  Etc.  Look at the quotes, and compare the work that's being done--don't just look at the price and go with the cheapest.
  • Number Four:   TALK ABOUT TIMING.  Before any work starts in your home, make sure you sit down with the contractor and talk about timing.  How long will the project reasonably take?  When will he be able to start?  How long will he work each day?  And, most importantly, what happens if the work is not finished on time?  Hammer out the solution the contractor will offer if the work takes unreasonably longer than expected.  Don't wait to start talking about this until there's a problem--that's way too late.  Deal with this ahead of time--before you've even hired a contractor--and get it in writing.
Now, with that said, I want to encourage you to focus on my line about the project taking "UNREASONABLY LONGER" than you expected.  Problems will arise in almost every remodel project--things you couldn't have predicted.  If your contractor is working diligently through these complications, don't hold him to unreasonable expectations.  Use this concept as a safeguard to protect yourself from a negligent or disinterested contractor, not as a means to wring money out of a contractor who's doing his/her best in a bad situation.

  • Number Five:  ASK ABOUT THE WARRANTY.  Most contractors will warrant their work for about a year or so.  Find out what your contractor will warrant and for how long well before you hire him.  When your paint has peeled six months after the work was completed is NOT the right time to explore the warranty options.  The time to do that is well before any money leaves your hand!
  • Number Six:  ASK FOR REFERENCES.  Every good, trustworthy contractor out there will GLADLY supply you with a list of references--names and numbers of folks he's worked for in the past.  And when he does supply you with this list, CALL THE PEOPLE.  Just because you've received a list of names from your contractor doesn't mean that those people liked the work she did for them.
  • Number Seven:  PERSONAL APPEARANCES MATTER.  In so many other situations in life, we should never judge by outward appearances, but when it comes to business, appearances matter.  If your contractor shows up looking like he just crawled out of bed, hadn't shaved for 3 weeks, and possibly has been living under a bridge somewhere, understand he will likely bring this same level of professionalism to your job.
  • Number Eight:  BUSINESS ETIQUETTE MATTERS.  In the same way that personal appearances matter, so does business etiquette.  Did your contractor return your calls in a reasonable amount of time?  Did she make it on time to all your appointments?  Was she professional in speech? In dress?  In the manner in which she talked about addressing your concerns?  If you run into a contractor who can't make it on time to meetings, can't return your phone calls in a reasonable amount of time, and so on . . . I'd run away quickly.  If that is the best he can muster when he's trying to secure your business, how much less is he going to bring when he's actually got your money?
  • Number Nine:  WHAT PAINT WILL BE USED?  Work out these details ahead of time as well.  Some contractors have certain products they want to work with, but typically, you're going to be much better off (your job will last longer, will apply easier, wash up better, etc.) if you make sure you use high quality (RepcoLite) paint!
  • Number Ten:  PAY NOBODY UNTIL THE WORK'S DONE.  Now, this is a no-brainer, but don't hand over the full amount of money until after you've had time to inspect the finished work.  Oh, you may need to give some money up front for supplies, paints, etc., but don't hand over a final check until everything is finished.  Don't do that even if your painter shows up and tells you the "guys will be finished tomorrow and I was just in the neighborhood, could I get the check now?"  Nicely and politely say "no."  Even if you trust your contractor.  Even if your contractor is your Brother-in-Law.  Handing money over before a project is finished is a recipe for disaster.  Don't do it!
And there you go--10, long-winded tips to make sure you end up with the right contractor.  Any comments?  Any feedback?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Great Fire of 2011!

This afternoon, around 4:30 or so, a can of lacquer blew up in one of the shakers at our Lakewood Blvd. location and ignited.  After the initial moment of panic, everybody thought quickly, moved quickly and saved RepcoLite! 

Here's video of Jack DeVries explaining everything and re-enacting the events from earlier in the day....

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A New Chair for the Little Guy

Yesterday, I was sitting in my little cubicle at work, happily typing away on the computer, when I suddenly realized that the other people in the office were talking about me with a salesperson from Wyrick's Office Supplies. Talking and laughing.  Mostly laughing. 

See, let me backpeddle for a second and explain:  our Office Manager decided last week that it was time to buy  a new chair for me.  Mine is old, uncomfortable and miserable to sit in for any length of time.  (In fact, I'm pretty sure it was used in England in the middle ages as a device of torture.)  And so, it was decreed that I could have a new chair--hence the visit from the Wyrick's salesperson and the conversation that occurred yesterday.

Now, that's fine and I have no problem at all with people talking about me when they're buying me a new chair.  Or when they're buying me anything, really.  Especially electronics.  Buy me electronics and you have license to talk about me all you want.  It's one of my bylaws.  But in this instance, as I mentioned, along with the conversation, there was a lot of stifled laughter.  And also a lot of laughter that wasn't so stifled.  In fact, if I had to classify it, I'd rank the bulk of the laughter between a "guffaw" and a "belly-laugh". 

And so, after a few minutes of this, I tried to poke my head over my cubicle so I could see what was going on.  But, of course, I couldn't see over the cubicle because I'm . . . well . . . short.  And so I dragged a paint can over so I could climb on that and peak over and see what was going on.  As I did so, I heard the other people say, "Oh, he's dragging his paint can over now so he can peak over the cubicle and see what's going on."

And when I finally did manage to peak over the edge of the cubicle, everybody--salesman included--erupted in laughter that was definitely bordering on "belly-laugh".

Well, trying to maintain my dignity, I said, "What're you talking about?"

And the Office Manager simply said:  "We're picking out a chair for you."

Now, I may be short, but I'm not dumb.  I knew what was going on.  And so I said "Oh, you're trying to find a chair little enough for the short guy?"

And without missing a beat, the Office Manager explained that they were asking if Wyrick's could get a chair that had a little fold-out ladder thing "so you can clamber up into your chair."

So I can "clamber" up into my chair?  Rats and mice and other rodents clamber.  I'm more of a "jumper" or a "leaper".

At any rate, the minute she said that, everybody started laughing again and then the sales guy, in all seriousness, started flipping pages and said, "Well, I don't think I've got anything with a ladder . . . but here's a chair that automatically lowers itself to about 1 1/2 foot off the ground."  He then looked at me and I thought--for a horrible second--that he was going to whip out a measuring tape and try to see if I could manage to get into a chair that was 1 1/2 foot off the ground.  He was still undecided when someone else shouted:  "We could always just lift him up and put him in it every morning."

That seemed to satisfy the salesman and he went back to his catalog, flipping pages and pointing out different chairs that were apparently designed for the severely height-disabled.  Before he'd gone too far, my Office Manager chimed up again--sounding very serious when she did so:  "Can we have him try some of these out--you know, to make sure his legs don't swing back and forth all day long?  Because I bet that can get uncomfortable."

"Yeah," someone else shouted (it was amazing how many people wanted to take part in the "Buy Dan a Chair" discussion), "when my 8 year old nephews go for a ride in the car, their legs go to sleep when they have to have them dangling over their car seats...."

8 year old nephews?  Car seats?  Little dangling legs?  I cleared my throat--to let them all know I was still standing right there--but they didn't seem to care.  They were laughing, having a great time, looking at all the features that chairs come with and seeing which features might work for "the little guy."

Finally, I decided that nothing was to be gained by standing there listening to it all, so I threw in my two cents.  I said that since we were looking for features in a chair for me, I'd like most of all to have a chair that I could drive around the office--like one of those Little Rascals or those "Hoveround" chairs or whatever they're called.  You know, the ones that the old people drive to the Grand Canyon and then sit on the edge cheering?  Yeah, I'd like one of those. 

Think how awesome that would be:  Walking to the bathroom wouldn't be work anymore.  It'd be like being at Craig's Cruisers on the Go-Cart track all day long.  I could zip and weave around the paint cans and the shelves and the boxes.  I could drive out to the back of the plant to throw my coffee cups away in the dumpster and then I could drive back. I could drive over to the fax machine to send a fax.  Drive to the copy machine to make copies or scan stuff.  Drive to the printers, drive to the coffee pot, drive to my car at the end of the day and then hire somebody to drive my chair back to the office.  After they lifted me and put me in my car.  Because really, we must be honest here:  all that driving around instead of walking is likely going to take a toll on my leg muscles.

Yeah, I was just getting into the idea of having a Little Rascal chair of my own when the Office Manager killed my dream.  "You're not getting a Little Rascal.  The only bells and whistles you're getting on your new chair is a step-stool.  So you can get in and out without having to be helped."

And of course, that started the laughing up all over again.  I backed away and went back to my desk, dragged my paint can over to my old chair and clambered back onto the seat.  With my legs swinging happily over the edge, a good 4 inches from the ground, I fired up my computer and went back to work....  But really, I spent the rest of the day thinking about all the things I'd do with a Little Rascal.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Flux Nexometers and Water Stains

Well, I've got a flat tire.  Right now.  In fact, I'm writing this from the lobby of the tire repair shop.  And of course, to be perfectly honest, I'm kind of half-expecting someone to walk over to tell me, "Sir, the tire's all fixed and ready to go, but we decided to take a look around and noticed that that motor's leaking all kinds of Chromascopic oils and your Magnesium Regulator is completely empty.  On top of all that, your Obstingent Flux Nexometer is completely shot."  (I'm not a car person, so as intelligent as I sound, I just want you to know that I'm making up names...)

Anyway, the point is, I'm half-expecting someone to tell me about all that bad stuff and then follow it up with this:  "Now, the good news is that we can do all that.  In fact, Obstingent Flux Nexometers are our specialty.  The bad news, for you, is that all told, it's probably going to run somewhere between $400 and $7000 dollars.  We'll know more when we get under the hood...."

Yeah, I'm half-expecting that to happen--not because I'm a pessimist, but because I'm a realist.  I know how my life works.  And that Nexometer thing wouldn't surprise me at all.  

Anyway, the point is this:  I'm sitting in the lobby,  thinking about a good way to spend my time and I decided to write a blog entry for RepcoLite. 

But what to write about?  Hmmmmm.  My eyes drifted around the room and settled on some very noticeable water stains in the ceiling. And suddenly, I had a topic.
These water stains are everywhere.  Homes have them, businesses have them, churches have them.  And often, when folks find them in their place of business or in their basement, they're confused as to how best to repair them and get their ceilings looking good again.  And while I don't have a clue how to go about locating, much less changing an Obstingent Nexometer, I do know a thing or two about paint. 

So, if  you've got water stains on your ceiling or on some ceiling tiles, here's what you need to do to get things looking good again:
  • First off, you need to fix the source of the problem.  This is absolutely a no-brainer, but believe me, people forget this all the time.  Repainting and sealing your water stains on the ceiling will be an exercise in futility if you don't first find the source of the problem and repair it.  Get a roofer out to your home if necessary.  Tighten your plumbing connections.  Install some heat tapes on your roof if the leaks are from ice backup.  Whatever you need to do, find the source of the leak and fix it. 
  • Secondly, after you've fixed the source of the water problem, now it's time to tackle the issue from a paint perspective.  And the place to start, is with a good primer.  We recommend Zinsser's BIN Stain Blocking Primer.  It's a little expensive, but it works.  Everytime.  Period.  And that makes it worth it. At any rate, pick up a quart or a pint or whatever and spot prime all those rusty areas.
  • Once the rust spots are primed, it's just a matter of painting your ceiling.  Don't waste your time trying to save time by touching up just those spots--that never works and you'll end up repainting the ceiling anyway.  So skip the "time-saving step" and go straight to a full paint job of your ceiling.  And for this, we recommend you use a good, waterbased ceiling paint in a finish of your choosing.
And that's it.  That's all that's necessary to painting over rusty water spots on your ceilings--whether your ceilings are plaster, drywall or even those drop-ceiling tiles.  It's a quick project and it will make a huge improvement in the look of your home or your business.

*** UPDATE ***
Just after I finished the post, the gentleman came out to tell me that my tire was fixed.  When I got to the counter, he told me "We took a look at everything else and noticed that your brakes are failing.  You should probably get it in soon and we'll get them fixed up."

I asked him, "Uhhh, how much does that typically run?"  I tried to be cool and hip--to act like money didn't matter and that I was just asking because I like to know things, but my voice broke and I sounded like I was starting to cry.  

He looked up--startled--and quickly said, "Oh, it could be anywhere from $150 to $600.  We won't know until we start looking."

I drove away a little depressed, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I should just be happy that my Obstingent Flux Nexometer is still working.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Talkin' About re-coat

Around the start of 2011, RepcoLite launched a new product:  re-coat recycled paint.  This was originally exciting for us because finally we'd be able to help our customers dispose of their unwanted, usable latex paint--you know, all the cans and cans of paint people typically have piled up in their basement.  Before re-coat, there really wasn't any regular way of getting rid of old latex paint.  In fact, even the county web sites and environmental organizations recommended that, for latex paint, your best bet is to dry it up and toss it (if you can't use it up or donate it).

Because of that--because the only solution being offered to West Michigan was to toss it in the landfills--RepcoLite started re-coat.  And, as I mentioned, we were originally excited about it because it gave us a way to help our customers and the folks in West Michigan get rid of their unwanted paint.

However, now we're finding ourselves excited about re-coat for another reason:  it's a darn good paint!  We've said from the beginning that it was a premium product available for a great price, but despite all our testing, there was one thing we lacked:  feedback from a real contractor.  Well, that is no longer the case.

Tom VanderWerp, from VanderWerp Interior Finishes, rolled seven of re-coat's designer colors onto the walls of a new spec house in Grandville.  Tom had noticed the product in the store and was initially intrigued by the palette of colors offered by re-coat.  Because of the designer colors, he decided to use it on this house and his response and feedback on the project and the paint was amazing.

Below I'm posting the audio--contained in RepcoLite's daily Another Day at RepcoLite radio blurbs.  They're 5 minute or so clips and if you give them a listen, you'll hear Tom sing the praises of re-coat in his own words.

Another Day at RepcoLite
--Episode #316 (original airdate:  2/25/11)

Another Day at RepcoLite
--Episode #317 (original airdate:  2/28/11)

Friday, March 11, 2011

"Quick Hitter" Project #3: Painting an Accent Wall

It's been a while since we tossed up a "quick hitter" project--a project that should take you less than a couple hours and cost you less than $40--so I thought I'd pitch this one to you:  painting an accent wall.

Painting an accent wall is an ideal project for the decorator on a budget.  You can usually get by with less than a gallon of paint and the time it takes to paint one wall is, typically, about 1/4 of the time it takes to paint an entire room.  (I'm throwing fractions around here just to show off  my vast knowledge of math.)

Alright, with that said, let's clarify what we're talking about here.  Painting an accent wall means taking a wall--the focal point of the room--and painting it a different (typically darker) color than the rest of the room.  And that's it.  You don't paint the other 3 walls, you don't repaint your trim or your ceilings.  You paint one wall a different color than the other 3 and you're done.  

Now, while that sounds easy, there are a couple things to think about when you tackle this project:

This is probably the biggest question folks deal with when they tackle this accent wall project:  which wall do I choose?  Typically, the answer you'll get from paint people and do-it-yourself decorators alike is "paint the first wall you see when you walk into a room."  

Now, while that may not be always wrong, it's certainly not always right.  The correct answer is this:  "paint the wall that your eye is naturally drawn to after you've entered a room."
For example, if you walk into a bedroom, often times, as you approach the room, the first wall you see through the doorway is the side wall.  Once you enter the room, your eye doesn't linger there, though.  Instead, your eye is naturally drawn to the wall that the bed stands against.  That wall is the "focal" wall, the wall that you should consider for your accent wall.

So don't spend so much time considering which wall you see first upon entering a room.  Instead, spend more time looking around and noticing where your eyes are drawn.  If you've got a fireplace in a living room, that wall is typically the focal wall.  Painting an accent color against that wall will make your fireplace stand out, will draw attention in that direction and will give your room that "designer feel."  Other typical, natural focal points can be large paintings or a mirror, dominant pieces of furniture (a couch against a wall for example), or even an archway or a set of french doors.  The walls that these items sit against, on, or in are candidates for the focal wall of the room.  

Once you've selected the right wall for your project, the next thing to consider (and, honestly, the last thing) is this:  what color?  

Often, when we hear the word "accent color" we think of orange.  Or red.  Or bright green.  Or maybe a dark, dark blue.  Basically, we think of bold, crazy colors.  But don't limit yourself in that regard.  

Always remember that the depth or "boldness" of a color is subjective--it's determined largely by the colors around it.  If you've got a soft tan or an off white on all the walls of a room, even a mid-range blue or an earthy green would function as an "accent color".  In fact, an orange in a room like that would be really difficult (not impossible, but difficult) to pull off.

Conversely, if you have a room of medium to dark tones, you could go either direction.  A bold orange, green, red, blue, brown could potentially be a tremendous accent color to put on that one focal wall.  But, so also could an off white.  If the rest of your room has some color and depth to it, even an off white can function as an accent color.

So, all that to say, don't limit yourself (and scare yourself away from the project) by thinking that in order to do the project justice, you'll need to pop open a can of "safety orange" and kiss your calm, peaceful room goodbye. 

A great way to pick a color for an accent wall is to look to your fabrics--pull one of the colors out of the throw pillows on the couch or the comforter on the bed.  Look to any art you have on the walls--is there a color in there that would look great on one single wall of the room--possibly the wall the picture itself is hanging on?  What about the carpet?  The window treatments?  

Anyway, you get the idea.  Find a wall, pick a color and spend a couple hours this weekend or next painting that one single wall and you'll be amazed at the results!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Checkerboard Table--Easy as 1, 2, 3 . . . 8

Painting a checkerboard design on a table is a great project that will infuse your front porch (or wherever) with that old-fashioned, laid- back feeling we all associate with a game of checkers.  It's simple, quick and best of all, will probably cost you less than $20 (including the table).

1.  Acquire a Table.  The first thing you need to do is get your hands on an old end table.  Now, maybe you've got one stuffed away in your attic or your basement or maybe you've got to head to the mission store or start hitting those garage sales.  Whatever you need to do, get your hands on an old end table.  And don't worry so much about appearances.  This project works well even if the table is chipped, scratched or cracked.  

2.  Paint the Table (if necessary).  If the table is not the color you want it to be, follow these instructions to get it looking exactly the way you want it.

3.  Pencil in the Checker Board Pattern.  If Checkerboardyou've got a checker board around the house, get it out and duplicate the pattern on your table using a ruler and light pencil lines.  If you don't have a checker board for reference, a standard checker board is composed of 64 squares laid out on an 8 x 8 board (see inset).  32 will be light and 32 will be dark. We recommend laying the board out with either 2" squares, 1.5" squares or 1" squares based on the size of the table.  (Choosing one of these sizes makes it much easier to tape it off later when you get ready to paint).

4.  Tape it Off.  Once you've got the pattern penciled in, it's time to tackle the most time-consuming part of the project:  laying down the masking tape.  Start with a roll of safe-release masking tape available at your local home center or hardware store.  Purchase the roll in the width that you drew your squares.  (If you drew 2" squares, go with the 2" tape, etc.)  Tape around the edges of the entire board and then tape off alternating lines and alternating squares (see inset).

5.  tape1Paint the First 16 Squares.  Using a paint color darker than the rest of your table (or lighter if you're table is quite dark), carefully brush or roll the paint over your taped-off table top.  As soon as you've finished this, carefully remove the tape and let the surface dry.  If you're planning sharp lines for your checker board pattern, then let the table dry overnight.  If you're planning on distressing the top as we have in our photos, you only need to let the top dry for a few minutes.  (The reason is this:  if you tape over the freshly painted surface too soon, you run the risk of pulling up some of the new paint when you remove your tape.  If you're planning on a distressed look, this doesn't matter.  If not, then you better wait).

6.  Tape it Off Again and Paint the Other 16 Squares.  After you've let the first set of squares dry it's time to tape off the rest of the board.  Lay your tape just as you did the first time, taping off alternating lines and alternating squares (see inset).  Once this is accomplished, apply your paint to the open squares using the same method as you did previously.  Again, carefully remove the tape immediately after you finish painting. 

7.  Tape and Paint the Border.  Once you've finished the squares, lay two strips of tape around each side of the board exposing a 1/8" or so gap that will become the border.  Paint this border in and remove tape carefully. 
8.   Distress & Finish.  If you're planning on distressing the piece, you can do this as soon as the paint is dry to thChecker Board Table 3e touch, or you can leave this part of the project for another day.  Just use light pressure with some 150 grit sandpaper and dust over the entire surface of the table.  Continue this until the checker board pattern is sufficiently distressed.  Wipe the table clean with a slightly damp rag and, when it's dry, either leave it as is or apply a single coat of a flat polyurethane varnish or a spray lacquer.  (Be advised, unless you use a water-based polyurethane or a non-yellowing lacquer, this protective coat will yellow slightly over time.)

This Checkerboard project takes a little bit of patience, but other than that, it's easy.  It's something anyone can do and it's extremely inexpensive.  Check it out!  And let us know how it went!