General Improvment Tools and Reviews

Nest Products for Your Home

We have referred a lot of folks to replacement units for their faulty Kidde smoke detectors over the past few years.  We ran into an issue with our Kidde 1275 units and were forced to replace the units. Providing a plug and play alternative for folks has been a help to many.  If you are like most, you don’t want to deal with household wiring. But, if you can replace a ceiling fan, or light fixture, you can replace your some detectors.  A few wire nuts and  you are all set.  I have an example of the Nest Protect installation instructions linked at the bottom of this post.  As you can see, a few wire nuts (much like a ceiling fan) and you are all set.  If you have a lot of units to replace, you are looking at quite a few dollars ($99/unit as of this writing), but some of the features are invaluable.

One of the primary pluses with the Nest Protect is that it has to be the ability to communicate with a nest thermostat and stop the furnace from running during a CO alarm.  CO would continue to be generated if you had a faulty furnace or, hot water tank, and the combination of the Nest Protect and the Nest Thermostat would aid in preventing a more dangerous situation. There are far too many carbon monoxide related deaths.  If the Nest Protect could help to prevent those, it could really make a difference.

For those who haven’t heard of the company, Nest was created by some former Apple iPod folks and then purchased by Google. The company appears to be building an entire suite of products for the “wired home” that currently include the Nest Learning Thermostat, the Nest Protect Smoke Plus Carbon Monoxide, Battery S2001BW and the Dropcam Pro Wi-Fi Wireless Video Monitoring Camera. Expect more to come from this Google subsidiary.

We have been using the Nest thermostat for the past couple of months now. It has the “cool” factor and is supposedly able to pay for itself over time, but my favorite feature has got to be the ability to alter the setting without having to go upstairs or downstairs to do so. If you have a smartphone or a tablet near, you can simply make your changes from where you are.

Nest Protect Wiring Instructions

Nest protect wiring


General Improvment Tools and Reviews

Laminate or Hardwood? Here is the Truth

One of the most common questions that I am asked when friends are renovating is “Should I use laminate or hardwood?”.

The answer to this question depends on a few of factors.

Location: Primary residence or rental
Keep hardwood out of your rental unless you get a screaming deal, don’t mind a finish that gets destroyed, or want to keep a fantastic (and responsible) long term tenant happy.

Pets will destroy the finish on hardwood flooring. If you have pets, and don’t want to refinish every few years, consider a high quality laminate floor.

The easiest installation will be a plank vinyl.  You will achieve the look of a hardwood or laminate.  To achieve the look, we recommend the “plank” product. Some think that I am talking about vinyl tile when I suggest plank vinyl.  It is very different in terms of the look, but similarly simple in terms of the installation.

Your primary question has to do with the location of the flooring being put in.  If this is your primary residence, I would almost certainly answer “Hardwood”.

If you are talking about a rental property I would recommend a laminate, or plank vinyl, depending on the age and condition of the underlayment along with the skill of the installer.

If you are considering a laminate, I would strongly recommend that you consider a plank vinyl instead.  The look is nearly identical to a laminate and the installation is much easier.  We wrote a review about the Allure brand of plank vinyl here.  The tools needed to lay a plank vinyl floor are probably sitting in just about anyone’s tool drawer.  Laminate flooring will require a couple of saws and many sharp blades.

Many will tell you that laminates look just like hardwoods now.  Don’t buy it!  They will look great compared to an old carpeted floor, or sheet vinyl floor, but there is simply nothing that matches the look of a true hardwood floor.  There is a difference in the look, sheen, feel, and temperature.  Yes, temperature.  Your hardwood is going to retain warmth better than a thin laminate floor will.  The warmth of a true hardwood is not just in the beauty of the wood, it is also in the warmth that the hardwood retains.  The hardwood will hold some of the warmth from your heating source.

Bouncing / Punky floors

Many people who install laminate flooring will complain about the “bounce” in the floor.  This happens when you have an uneven floor and the laminate spans that section.  The laminate wants to hold its straight line.  Because of that, it will feel punky, or bouncy, anytime it goes over a depression or sits on two uneven sections.  In addition to that, it could weaken the tongue over time and destroy that joint.  The manufacturer will recommend using a floor leveler for areas that are uneven, but many people won’t even be aware of the depressions until after their laminate installation.  Plank vinyl is nice in that it will take to the wavy floor. I had an incredibly wavy area to address in a 100+ year old home.  The plank vinyl did the job perfectly. Hardwood is nice because it is fastened to the underlayment.  There are glue down installations, but if you are doing a glue down, the leveling of the floor is a must.


laminate flooring up close tongue and groove

Plank Vinyl:

Plank Vinyl Flooring


hardwood flooring up close

It is hard to argue with the finished look of a hardwood floor.


Oak hardwood floor

Plank Vinyl:

Plank vinyl in a wet entry

General Improvment

Should I Hire a Licensed Contractor or is an Unlicensed Contractor OK?

Licensed or Unlicensed contractor?

The benefits of hiring a licensed home contractor definitely out risk the benefits of hiring a unlicensed contractor. Whether a homeowner has plans for kitchen remodeling, bathroom remodeling, or any general home project work, a licensed home contractor should be used no matter the size of the project.

As an NC registered contractor I know that hiring an unlicensed contractor can seem like a good option, but it’s often important that we realize hiring a licensed contractor outweighs hiring an unlicensed contractor.

The Unlicensed Contractor

Remember that Unlicensed contractors might come across as more budget-friendly, but they are often not worth the risk. Unlicensed contractors are not bonded or insured, which means their operating costs are much lower and this means that they are able to quote construction jobs lower than licensed contractors.

You might even find yourself asking, why would you allow someone to work on your home if they’re not able to run their business according to the law? If budget really is your main concern, think about the potential cost you will be responsible for if something goes wrong. Construction is one of the top industries where employees are hurt on the job. Tool malfunctions, inadequate training, falls from ladders or scaffolds, all of these situations injure and kill thousands of workers every year. If an uninsured contractor and their crew are working on your home and someone gets hurt, you may very well be liable for a personal injury claim since the accident occurred on your property and the contractor is not operating with insurance.

The NC Licensed Contractor

Now this is not true of a licensed contractor. When you work with a North Carolina licensed contractor you can check their license history for past complaints. This way you can avoid a builder who has a poor record of business or is known for being involved in, many accidents. Plus, it’s helpful that North Carolina requires a documented level of experience or education in order to issue a license.

Keep in mind that, hiring a licensed contractor doesn’t mean you’ll have perfect work completed on your home. Mistakes happen at every level of experience; however another benefit to contracting with a licensed home builder is that you may be eligible to apply for the residential contractors’ recovery fund if something goes wrong. This fund distributes up to $30,000 to complete a construction project or to fix building issues caused by a negligent contractor.

If you’re in the North Carolina area, finding a general contractor with a valid contractor’s license is very easy to find. The North Carolina Licensing Board for General Contractors allows consumers to search by individual name, company name or license number on their website. A simple, free search will show you in seconds if the license is active, invalid or archived. Plus you can search for license type and see what kind of projects that they are licensed to work on.

When you start interviewing contactors, ask questions about their experience. In addition to the project’s cost and length of time it will take to complete, ask each contractor: How did they learn the construction trade? How long have they been operating their construction business in the area? Ask for references from past clients as well. A certified contractor should not have any problems coming up with a list of clients and references of past work.

General Improvment

Renovation Art

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