Joe’s Remodeling Blog

This Blog is dedicated to the notion that remodeling is a fun, life long learning process.

Remodeling is my passion, If you are interested in remodeling your home, or just happen to stumble upon my site, please refer me to anyone in need of remodeling. You’ll be pleased that you did.

Boise Weather

Spring has arrived here in South West Idaho. The forsythia are bursting out yellow and the daffodils and crocus are everywhere.

“Quality construction does not cost- it pays”  

as seen on a bumper sticker

An Irish Friendship Wish



May there always be work for your hands to do;
May your purse always hold a coin or two;
May the sun always shine on your windowpane;
May a rainbow be certain to follow each rain;
May the hand of a friend always be near you;
May God fill your heart with gladness to cheer you, and may you be in heaven a half hour before the devil knows you’re dead.

9 Volt Battery Safety Alert

9 Volt Battery

9 Volt Battery

I saw a heartfelt plea from a gentleman on the internet that had a 9 volt battery cause a serious house fire. Part of his concern is that he felt very responsible because he was ignorant of the danger and asked that I pass this information along.

I’m doing my duty to pass on the warning.

The story is that when he changed out his smoke detector batteries once a year at daylight savings, just like the fire department recommends, he put the old ones in a bag and left them in the garage on a shelf. Later he inadvertently bumped the bag and in doing so, jumped the contacts together which caused a heat reaction that ignited some nearby clothing. Ultimately a lot of property damage occurred but thankfully, there was no loss of life in this case.

In my estimation 9 volt batteries last anywhere from 2-10 years, hell the smoke detectors themselves should be changed out every 8-10 years. Smoke detectors, like CO (Carbon Monoxide) detectors save lives.

They all alert folks in enough time to either extinguish a small fire or get out in time to save lives. Most new ones are designed to be electrically energized with a battery backup.  However, many homes are still only equipped with the battery only units.

9 Volt Survival Tool

Fire Starter

Fire Starter

9 volt batteries have long been used as a survival tool. It only takes a second to start steel wool on fire, just to give you an idea of how much potential energy is stored inside of them.

Inherent problems

No one wants to hear the chirping or experience a false alarm (which always happens in the middle of the night.) Yet, I’m thankful that they do because the assumption is that, if they are silent, then they are armed and fully functional. A little known bit of trivia is that they start chirping when they still have 2/3rds of their strength left.

Building codes now mandate that all of the installed smoke and CO detectors are electrically tied together so when one goes off, then they all do. (Exceptions exist when remodeling, they are rare and likely hardship generated)

When to Change Them Out

Battery testing tool

Battery testing tool

Here is my recommendation: Disclaimer (This is just how I do it) Rather than switching batteries annually, test the unit by depressing the test button with the handle of a broom or some spray some synthetic smoke to see if it is working every year. If it doesn’t work, then do some trouble shooting or replace the darn thing. It is a small investment in the big picture.

Using a simple battery testing tool will also help in making a trouble shooting diagnosis. I’ll bet you’ll stop throwing away perfectly functional strong batteries.

Storing 9 Volt Batteries

Disposing of good batteries is silly. If you do have to dispose of a dead one, just throw it away. But if you are  saving one that has been chirping, or storing 9 volt batteries for any reason, put a piece of tape over the contacts to render the strong batteries super safe.

In the words of one of my hero’s, Sargent Phil Esterhaus of the Hill Street Blues, “Lets roll, and be careful out there!”

For more information than you would ever want to know about these batteries click here

Your comments are welcome. To ask questions or get more information about remodeling, click here to email me directly, or call 208-947-7261

House #1 The Love Shack

The name of this home comes from the B52′s song of the same name that was on the radio at just the right time.

The Love Shack

The Love Shack

Flipping is an art form, now that the acquisition is done. Evaluating our current conditions and developing a plan for success was the first order of business.  My vision for this home is to alter it substantially, way beyond the typical “Fluff & Buff” that most flippers do. We start by cleaning everything out that needs to go. This clears the distractions and provides us with an opportunity to do a top to bottom review. Then we outlined the strengths and weaknesses of our home.

Flaws to overcome:

  1. It had a flat roof which added to the lack of curb appeal.
  2. It had resistance wires in the ceiling for heat. According to Perry Paine of Boise city, “It is some of the nicest heat you’ll ever get in a home but it is a bear to maintain if anything goes wrong.”
  3. The bathroom had a old look and feel with a bad floor and walls.
  4. Natural gas was going to cost over $6,000 just to get it into the area.
  5. The windows had been replaced but the original aluminum ones had leaked for years so we found mold beneath every one.
  6. The electrical panel had screw in fuses and no grounding lugs on the outlets or GFCI ones where needed.
  7. The washing machine was in the kitchen.
  8. The kitchen was not serviceable or adaptable because the cabinets had been built in place.
  9. There was no air conditioning.
  10. We had a carport but no family room
  11. It had galvanized pipes (usually this means obstructed water flow and potential leaks)
  12. The backyard was not fenced.
  13. All of the interior doors had damage.
  14. We were on a septic system.

Assets to celebrate:

  1. Original Oak flooring that had potential to be refinished.
  2. It had a solid structure, what I like to call “good bones”
  3. It had not been substantially altered.
  4. The crawl space was insulated.
  5. The windows had been replaced.
  6. It had a decent floor plan that could be improved easily.
  7. There was city sewer in the area
  8. The exterior bricks were in good shape and very unique. (I had never seen anything like them.) Plus we had extras!
The Kitchen

The Kitchen


Our initial assessment was that we were going to do a Deep Renovation. We needed to tear out the drywall, all the lighting and plumbing fixtures (except for the toilet and bathroom door). How far to go with drywall removal was a point of heated discussion and some waffling. Eventually I was convinced to remove it all because it will make it easier for all of the subcontractors and will render a better finished project.

The big transformations were going to be a vaulted front half of the home, done with scissor trusses and a central HVAC system. Without natural gas in the area I turned to a Mini Split system for it’s energy efficiency and low operating cost. We decided to enclose the car port and turn it into a family room.

Consulting with our relator Donna Jacobson, we made sure we were not going overboard with our plan. She is going to be the listing agent, so what we were doing had to also make sense to her. Getting buy in for the plan from my team is always a big emotional boost. We created a DOW and had some rough numbers for executing the plan but pulled the trigger on the plan prior to getting the subcontractor bids like we normally do.

Once the floor plan was drawn up we went and obtained a Boise City Building Permit and separate  Fencing Permit, we quickly built a typical cedar picket fence with metal poles to create some sturdy privacy. With a plan, permit in hand, and an eager crew, the project was in full swing.

Thanksgiving 2013 update:

The place is looking up

The place is looking up

The demo is done and the rebuilding is happening. The big deal is changing the roof line. The new look is pretty dramatic.  At first glance it looks too tall, yikes! It grew on me quickly and I think it will be fine, getting the sheeting on the roof and “drying it in” is a high priority at the moment. A pleasant surprise was the carport being framed in feels great and the floors can be refinished.

12-1 In looking things over today, I saw the opportunity for a loft reminiscent of the tiny home tour. I also decided to trim out a wall from the kitchen to the family room that will create a bar stool area. Diane mentioned a great idea about a light well that we will explore tomorrow.

12-6 Rough plumbing is in and the sewer connection was done just before the snow and hard freeze.

Saint Patrick’s day 2014 update:

We had some minor setbacks that threw the schedule off including sub-par framing issues that needed to be fixed. Finally the HVAC and rough electrical are done, we are insulated dry-walled, taped, textured, painted and roofed. Working on finishing up siding now!

Does Being “Green” Cost More?

Wild flowers

Wild flowers

Does green remodeling cost more? It depends upon when you are doing the accounting. If you are counting the upfront cost, then perhaps it does. If you are counting after the X and Y curves cross in a few years then, -no it doesn’t.

Trust me, there are seemingly intuitively “Green” seeming things that are absolutely not green at all.

I recall a humorous conversation with a client that lives near our local Co-Op. (a place I love but is a specialty store for me). I was showing off the green aspects of the DOW when they stopped me in my tracks and asked to have the green things eliminated to save money.

Wow I had not realized it but the connection is that being green costs extra. It doesn’t help that Whole Foods is here now, nicknamed “Whole Paycheck”.

Now that’s organic looking, but who knows?

Naturally this is often the case when we see that organic things cost more at the checkout line. Carrots are carrots, if you can’t taste the difference why should you pay more. If you were paying attention to what you are eating and were doing a blind taste test, my guess is that you may not be able to taste a difference. I admire those that choose “Healthier” food, don’t get me wrong, but you must admit it is ironic that we are talking about cost vs. value here too.

The problem is that being Green and being Organic are two different things entirely. Unfortunately, the Green Remodeling process has a serious marketing problem to address.

I encourage the use of green materials and techniques but I am at the whim of my clients’ requests. I also understand that not everyone is interested or willing to try alternative materials or techniques which is OK.

Sustainability Logo

Our Sustainability Logo

The only way this green stuff is going to be incorporated on a large scale is to limit availability or eliminate availability of wasteful materials and building techniques.

If I were a spec home builder, I could incorporate all sorts of green things and price the home accordingly, allowing the market to set the price or shall I say value of my project but alas I am not.

In the meantime I approach each project as a unique opportunity to do what I can to be true to my 4 principals of green or shall I say, sustainable remodeling.


Second Chance

As the economy eases up and manufacturers are being pressured into being more energy efficient and ecologically sensible. I see more products are evolving into the realm of being more verdant.

As a professional residential remodeler, I am looking to the future. I am also keeping a finger on the pulse of the manufacturing world while scouring the recycled building sources, to make sure to make these materials and products available for my clients to choose to incorporate into their remodeling projects.

We are exploring a new relationship with Second Chance involving tax credits for donated item and dedicated deconstruction teams. If it works, it may evolve into being a real player in offsetting the cost of remodeling projects. I also just learned about a pneumatic de-nailing tool that sounds pretty cool too. Stay tuned for more on the topic.

Your comments are welcome. To ask questions or get more information about remodeling, click here to email me directly. or call us at 208-947-7261

Disclaimer: Some of these images came from the WEB. If they are yours, and you object to them being used, please claim them and I will gladly remove and replace them at once.

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What Does R-Value Mean?

How Heat Moves Around

I have been confused for years about just what the term R-value means. You would think that if you have 16″ of insulation it should correlate to an R-Value.

That is all well and good, as long as you are talking about the exact same insulation. What an R-Value is, as it turns out, has lots of variables.

R-Value is the commonly used term to describe the thermal resistance ability of insulation.

As you recall heat travels through 3 means:

  • Radiation

  • = Heat travels through the air Example: heat from the sun warms you through radiated heat. (It is important to understand that Radiated heat does not pass through solid materials. Radiated heat passes through solid materials through conductivity.)
  • Conduction

  • = When two things are touching, heat travels through from one to the other. Example: touching something hot means you get burned.
  • Convection

  • = Heat rises. Example: when a cold pot of water is placed on a hot stove, the heated water at the bottom of the pot rises and the cold goes to the bottom of the pot. Air does the same thing.

Spraying Foam

Insulation is often misunderstood. Insulation only slows the travel of heat from high temperature to low temperature. How well it does that determines its R-Value. The R-Value was once described as a U-Value prior to 1945, and a  lower U-Value was better. However, as a marketing tool the inverse of U was used after WWII because it is human nature to think larger numbers are better.

Many factors influence how well insulation works. There are all kinds of materials with insulation properties. These days we fill voids in building walls with fiberglass insulation, and we use spray foams of all types too.

Insulation has evolved over the years as we have understood it better. I have found walls packed full with newspapers, and just heard of a story from a client who has a cabin in Silver City As they drilled a hole into the wall the bit got stuck, after putting it into reverse the bit let go. When they looked in the hole, they found all sorts of clothing. We assume they packed old clothing into the wall for insulation. It makes sense, as we wear clothing to insulate us from the cold. Rock wool and vermiculite are two other commonly found materials that were and used prior to fiberglass taking over the market.

Installing Net & Blow

As it turns out, air infiltration has a lot to do with how well a wall or roof assembly works. This is why we use a plastic engineered house wrap on the outside of homes to create a wind barrier.The cautionary tale is that you can overdo it in the sealed up home that is so tight that it does not breath. This is where an ERV or HRV to bring in fresh air and exhaust stale air might come in handy, like we used in a below grade, dirt insulated home we worked on several years ago.

As building science improves and our homes become more energy efficient, we can look for better materials to insulate with.

In our region, R-38 is specified as a proper insulation for on top of a ceiling. This is achieved commonly with blown in insulation. Depending upon the R-value of the material used, the appropriate blanket of material is installed. The better the R-Value per inch of the material, the less of it you need. This is where foams perform better. They also dramatically decrease the amount of air flow cutting down the conductive heat loss. As an example, the space shuttle insulation tiles are R-50 / inch.

Open Face Batt Insulated exterior Walls

Most remodelers just call the insulator, or do it themselves, but at Levco, we take a more aggressive stance. We have a great relationship with our subcontractor and have long discussions at times to make sure we use the appropriate material for the specific situation. We have used all sorts of techniques like batts, net & blow, flash and batt, and blown in. We have used all sorts of materials too, including cellulose, high density foam, low density foam, high and low expanding foam, backer rods, and baffles to make sure condensation is kept to a minimum despite living in an arid climate.

At Levco, each project gets an energy inspection. We have a building inspector respond to verify that the correct materials and assemblies are employed not only to vensure that the plans are being followed but that best practices are being adhered to for our climatic conditions.

Your comments are welcome. To ask questions or get more information about remodeling, click here to email me directly, or visit our contact page.

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Incorporating Artifacts in Our Work

Shower Glass Artifact

In honor of National Recycling Day 11-15-2012, we got to thinking about how our little remodeling company in Boise is doing our part. This is a unique look at some of what we are up to.

Being a remodeler gives me a rare opportunity to do some cool stuff. On a recent project, Levco was able to install an artifact into a door that is a real head turner. The history of the item is so cool that I had to share it with you. Howard Snyder was the handy man of the neighborhood for years. My clients bought his home from the third owners when they had to move away.

Howard passed away some time in the late 1900′s. He was the go to guy to have things fixed. He was also a creative fellow. My clients fell in love with the originality of the home and felt a strong connection with Howard, though they never knew the man. While remodeling their home. “We found all sorts of things that Howard did, including creating a homemade automatic sprinkler system,” my clients said.

In the basement, Howard had installed a crude shower that worked, and their suspicion was that he washed up there after working. The tempered obscured glass shower door had the image of a naked young woman etched into it. The story goes, Howard ran to show his neighbor Bruce what he had done with his new sandblaster beaming with pride. I remember meeting him briefly and recall he had lots of stuff stashed all around his property. Rogene Gustafson, another long lost neighbor, spoke of his eccentricity often.

The client came up with the idea of having it inserted into a door of his new shop addition and this is what we did.

West Boise Beam

On another project we incorporated a beam with the words West Boise carved into it . The historical significance of the beam is that it came from the old West Boise Little League fields out on Liberty and Milwaukee  according to my source Levi Conner, the Crew Chief for sports fields and pools for the City of Boise. Levi says “It was most likely from the late ’70′s when wood was cheap” The Forest Service was doing the same sort of signs, and they looked cool!”

When we found it, the beam was being used as a structural member for a covered patio. We moved it inside and dressed it up. It now sits on top of an existing beam and gives the illusion of being structural in the kitchen.

Repurposing is an art we enjoy dabbling in, and if you’ve followed my posts, you’ll know that we’ve used wood from a Wisconsin barn, and cabinets from previous remodeling projects, and we even incorporated a pedestal sink with a broken base we got at Second Chance building supply, into an upper cabinet and used it in a small bathroom, and used an old dresser  and converted it into a sink base with a Carrara Marble top among other things.

It fits in perfectly with the sustainability theme we carry through our daily lives.

Your comments are welcome. To ask questions or get more information about remodeling, click here to email me directly.

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