Roofing: These improvements take spring cleaning to another level
 
Remove Roof Stains

Green roofs covered with low-growing plants are all the rage in the gardening and green communities in the fight to decrease water runoff and increase energy efficiency in homes and businesses.

But there is one plant you don't want to see up there "” algae.

 The algae, Gloeocapsa magma, is a microscopic culprit that causes ugly black streaks on roofs making them look old and worn well before their time. They can make roofs, especially those vast steep roofs, look three times their age.

The algae "floats through the air like a dandelion seed," says Evan Wood, owner of Roof Cleaners Plus in Beechmont, which specializes in removing the growth that lives off the tiny limestone granules in the roof shingles. (Limestone is added to increase weight and durability to the shingle.) Eventually it goes through a decomposition stage and the algae turns black, causing the ugly stain. As it rains, it is spread down the roof, causing black streaks.

What You Can't See

But, like a low-budget thriller, it's what you can't see that's scary. The algae still live and spread underneath the black, dead algae. The stains tend to debut on the northern slope where the right amount of shade and moisture are common "¢ but southern sides are often affected as well.

If the problem is ignored, the algae stop the shingles from reflecting heat from the sun's ultraviolet rays. When this happens, it can affect your home's heating and cooling costs. And because the shingles cannot reflect heat, they start to diminish prematurely. Signs of wear are curled corners, wavy or humped shingles, broken or loose shingles or an excess of shingle granules in your gutters.

There are a number of remedies, from store-bought solutions to businesses that offer scrubbing or pressure-washing (not recommended because of shingle damage due to loss of granules) and those, like Wood, that offer cleaning with a solution approved by the Asphalt Roof Manufacturers Association, ARMA.

"We use a specialized pump built into the truck and a 200-foot hose to spray the entire roof, not just the part that's stained," says Wood, who has spit-shined Riverbend Music Center's pavilion roof. "The results are immediate," unlike some store-bought solutions that promise a gradual improvement over time that may or may not materialize.

Proper Process

Because it is a chemical application, all garden growth in the area, as well as the windows, is kept wet during the process and rinsed immediately to prevent damage. Gutters are cleaned beforehand, and all window exteriors are completely cleaned after.

"If a product says it won't harm plants, it may get rid of the stain," warns Wood, "but not the algae underneath. The key is to keep the plants wet during the process to protect them."

There are sealers on the market "but none that work, to my knowledge," he says. He recommends a two-year preventative maintenance program that sprays an algaecide without going through the complete process and includes gutter cleaning and a roof check-up for shingle damage. He compares it to treating a swimming pool that's been neglected for years. "You pay more for the initial cleaning but much less for maintenance," Wood says.

The cleaning process is about one-tenth the cost of a roof replacement and depends on the pitch and size of the roof, the linear feet of gutters and the number of windows. "A Cape Cod or small ranch might be about $400; a two-story, four-bedroom home might be about $700-$800," Wood says.

Information:

Roof Cleaners Plus,
(513) 807-1260, (513) 497-1100 or
www.shingleshine.com

 
 Flooring: It's not just a floor anymore

 
What's hot in the Tristate flooring market this season?

"Hardwood is a big player in today's market; hardwood surfaces are gaining ground," says Mike Runyan, sales manager for McSwain Carpets and Floors.

The family-owned company, led by President and CEO Jason McSwain, has been in business for more than 70 years. With nine stores in Greater Cincinnati and two near Dayton, McSwain sells and installs flooring from bamboo to luxury vinyl.

You need only to check out real estate listings to see the value homeowners place on hardwood floors. "It's the preferred flooring," always noted in descriptions of homes on the market, Runyan says.

Customers are pulling up carpet and replacing it with a new generation of hardwood, which features wider planks and a variety of treatments and options. Styles have gone from the 2.25-inch strips to wider pieces of wood. Textures, including "hand-scraped" options, are challenging the familiar glossy smooth look as a way of adding interest and depth to a room.

"French bleed" is used to describe hardwood floors featuring dark, often black, edges "so that the definition of each plank is very, very strong," Runyan says. It's distinctive and attractive. Generally, when the homeowner installs hardwood, they are putting down a 20-year floor.

Easy Care

Luxury vinyl tiles are taking over the laminate market, says Runyan, offering easy-care vinyl type flooring with a lot more options including tiles that look ceramic or wood grain planks that leave people hard pressed to tell it from a hardwood floor. These floors have warranties of 20 to 25 years. "It's a floor that's going to hold up and last."

Ceramic-look tiles can be laid edge-to-edge or grouted. An array of details can be added to create a custom design for the home. The vinyl provides the look of ceramic, but it is softer under foot and not as cold.

However, a distinctive and very popular option as an accent piece or for one room is the combination cut and loop carpets, which provide a three-dimensional look on the floor. Perfect for an office or sitting room, these carpets come in different patters including floral, basket weave and polka dot.

Step by Step

Runyan suggests homeowners start with a visit to the showroom to talk to salespeople and look around. It's best to take a couple of floor samples home and see how they look in the room under the lighting and in combination with the rest of the décor.

It's also important to consider how the room is used as well as foot traffic, pets and children.

McSwain's website also offers these tips:

"¢ Draw a simple outline of the room, including entrances.

"¢ Measure the room, including closets and other areas needing flooring.

"¢ Note the flooring on adjoining rooms.

"¢ If possible, note what is under the existing flooring.

"¢ Decide what to do with existing baseboards and moldings.

"¢ Bring along a photo of the room.

"¢ Bring swatches and samples of fabrics and colors so design experts can help coordinate the perfect match of flooring to complement your home.

Information:

McSwain Carpets and Floors,
(513) 326-4242,
 
Windows: Worth the Homework 
 

Open, close. Tilt, lock. When you are looking for new windows for your house, nothing replaces heading out to the showroom and giving them a test drive.

Open it, close it. Have the salesperson show you how you tilt it to clean it and how it locks. Then give it a whirl "” up and down.

More importantly, Mike Gilkey, pres-ident and CEO of Gilkey Windows, urges homeowners to do their homework on the emerging R5 ratings by going to the Department of Energy website.

"You'll get your money back in two or three years" when you invest in your house by installing better windows, says Gilkey. He recommends triple pane windows to cut energy costs.

Gilkey also advises:

"¢ Homeowners make certain they are working with a reputable company by checking it out with the Better Business Bureau;

"¢ Make sure they are getting a strong window by requiring one with a design pressure rating of 40-50; and

"¢ Require the best possible thermal performance. "Most windows sold have a R3 rating," according to Gilkey, who strongly advises the R5.

Ric Thress, president of RWT Windows, says homeowners should determine what's wrong with the current windows and whether they can be fixed or should be replaced. Additionally, Thress suggests taking a look at the house and the neighborhood to help determine the best style and material for new windows.

For example, in an older neighborhood of stately Tudors, a wood window is the right choice. In newer neighborhoods, a proper choice may be vinyl. Thress also asks the owner how long he or she intends to stay in the house and whether custom colors are needed.

"Usually wood is a lot more expensive," he says. Wood windows can be painted different colors on the inside but vinyl means less maintenance. The grids on wood windows offer a rich depth because they are outside the glass but in the construction of vinyl windows, the grids are in between the panels of glass, which again also means less maintenance.

That's just the beginning of the decisions: double hung or casement; grids or no grids and then how many grids; full screens, half screens; fiberglass or aluminum screens; bay or awning; argon-filled or krypton-filled.

Big Investment, Big Payoff

New windows are a big investment with a big payoff. The right windows make your home more comfortable and energy-efficient. They increase the resale and the beauty of the home.

The extra effort is worthwhile, and a "field trip" to a showroom is certainly in order. Window companies usually have photos of previous customers so you can see how the windows look installed on houses of different types, designs and ages. Some companies will provide a list of customers who have given permission for their address to be released and you can drive by a house with recently installed windows, which gives a much better idea of what you are buying than the best stock model the salesperson pulls from the back of his truck.

You want to be certain you like the way the windows look, the way they are made, how they'll look in your home, down to the detail on the trim and the sash.

Thress is the owner and estimator and installs the windows along with his crew, so customer service is part of the package. As with most purchases, Thress notes, even if the products look the same, you get what you pay for. A $1 screwdriver may look just like the $5 screwdriver bought at another store, "but after you use it and hit it with a hammer a couple of times, you know why one costs $1 and one costs $5," he says.

Thress recommends homeowners invest the time to explore the options and then get two or three bids before moving forward.

Tax Credits

A tax credit of up to $500 on the homeowner's 2011 federal income tax return may be available if all the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed.

The replacement windows and doors must meet ENERGY STAR standards under the "Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act" (H.R. 4853) and there is a lifetime cap on the credit. The unit has to be installed during the 2011 calendar year and the credit applies to the cost of the unit, not installation. Talk to your contractor about the paperwork needed and it's smart to check with a qualified tax adviser on conditions and eligibility.

Information: www.energy.gov;
www.energystar.gov

Gilkey Window Company,
(800) 878-7771 or
 
The Window Replacement
Technicians, RWT Windows,
(513) 761-0944 or
 
Energy Savings:Conserve Your Energy

There are many ways to conserve energy at home this spring, but a good first step would be to get an energy audit, which tells a homeowner how a home can be more energy-efficient.

Duke Energy offers a free energy audit for its customers. Its Home Energy House Call provides personalized information unique to each home and its energy usage. A trained energy specialist will conduct a thorough analysis and then give a custom-tailored report detailing steps to increase efficiency. Duke also will provide a free Energy Efficiency Starter Kit that includes Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) bulbs.

A more in-depth audit from a professional could cost $300-500, but greater savings areas also could be revealed.

One key area to target for savings: air-conditioning units. It's never a bad time to make sure they are working efficiently. According to Duke Energy spokesperson Sally Thelen, heating and air conditioning are the biggest areas in which homeowners can save energy and money, accounting for about two-thirds of utility bills. Cracks, leaks or a dirty filter in an air-conditioning unit can be a major source of energy waste, so make sure a professional inspects the unit before the weather heats up and the unit starts working hard.

Another popular way to conserve energy is by replacing standard light bulbs with CFL bulbs. An energy-saving light bulb produces the same amount of light as a standard bulb with less energy. According to Energy Star, a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy, CFL bulbs use up to 75 percent less energy than a standard light bulb.

For more information on CFL bulbs, visit www.energystar.gov and try the Lighting Calculator to see how much you can save with CFL bulbs.

Have your appliances and electronics seen better days? Duke's website features an Appliance Calculator that determines the cost of running each appliance. There are also separate calculators for: thermostats, heating, cooling, room AC, lighting, refrigerators, washers, dryers and water heaters. Find out more about the calculators at www.duke-energy.com/ohio/savings/calculate-your-savings.asp and find more energy saving tips at duke-energy.com/ohio/savings.asp.

"Changing the way you think of energy can make a difference," Thelen says. "Thinking of things before you do them."

Vampires Bite

Did you know that many electronic devices still draw energy when they aren't being used or powered on? They are called energy vampires.

According to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, "standby power" amounts to as much as 10 percent of residential electricity use. Some of the big culprits include: computers, high-end printers, flat-screen TVs, DVRs, cable boxes and DVD players. One way to combat the vampires is to use a top-grade power strip, which does not draw energy when switched off.

 
Information:
Duke Energy,
(800) 544-6900 or
 
Local BBB can make renovating a friendlier process
 
 
Jocile Ehrlich, President/CEO of the Cincinnati Better Business Bureau
 
 
That new patio might seem irresistible, and the updated kitchen would be oh-so-nice. But before jumping into home improvement projects, consumers should check with the Better Business Bureau.

Building blusters can be avoided with some planning, checking businesses and following useful tips from the BBB. Jocile Ehrlich, president/CEO of the Cincinnati BBB, gives useful insight to any homeowner looking for a contractor.

How can the BBB help people looking for home contractors?

The BBB is an excellent resource for those setting out on a new course. We can help by allowing people to compare businesses and give industry-specific recommendations.
 
What should homeowners keep in mind when looking for contractors?

We recommend that they get three to four estimates from contractors, and make sure they're identical. Be sure that all items you want are listed in the contract, down to color, cabinetry and countertops in a kitchen, for example. For anything that's important to you, it should be itemized in the contract.

Also, make sure that they are properly licensed and can provide references. Don't hesitate to pick up the phone and call people. Whatever is important to you "” ask it. Go see what people have had done. Is it what you would want in your home? Be sure that they are properly insured and have Workers' Compensation.

What is the biggest mistake people make in renovating their homes?

Not doing their homework. Don't take a friend or family member's word that it's a good business. Make sure it's the type of company you want to work with.

The contract also needs to be very specific and typewritten so it's easy to understand. You should never pay more than a third down, and the contract should include a start and end date. The biggest thing is detail on the contract. It's a consumer protection here "” it needs to be specified.

How does the BBB rate companies?

We look at complaints and if they have responded to them, and we compare that to the size of the business as well. We look at if there are any government actions on the company and its length of time in business. Overall, there are 16 elements to the rating system.

What kind of resources do you provide to consumers?

They should look at our industry tips online, or feel free to call us so we can recommend questions to ask of contractors. They can also use the Request a Quote tool online, which can pull up industry information. You can submit project information to up to five contractors, and they can get in touch about an estimate.

Also, BBB stickers designate accredited businesses that have not only met our standards, but are dedicated to continue meeting them. If a situation arises and it cannot be resolved with the company, the BBB will hear those cases.

For more information on the Cincinnati BBB or to find accredited businesses, visit
www.cincinnati.bbb.org or call (513) 421-3015.