How to Determine the Correct Size for a New HVAC System

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Servicing an HVAC Unit
Servicing an HVAC Unit

Homeowners today have a good selection of different types of HVAC systems to consider. The best type is usually determined by your environment. Swamp coolers are made just for use in hot dry locations. Central air conditioner and heaters work well for most of the country. Heat pumps are very efficient but are expensive to install. The list goes on and on. The thing they all have in common is that they should be properly sized for the structure they will serve.

Furnaces that are too large tend to cycle off and on continuously. A central system that is too large may be less effective at dehumidification than a correctly sized AC unit. And it goes without saying that a larger unit costs more going in. A too-small system works too hard to keep up. But a properly sized system will do the right job for the environment at maximum efficiency.

Contractors Shouldn’t Rely on Rule of Thumb

Too many contractors rely on “experience” or an “educated guess. Bad idea. It’s much better to use worksheets designed by the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA). They are far more accurate because they take into account individual actual conditions. These include the amount and type of insulation, the size of the home, the size and glazing type of windows, air leakage, lighting, and home appliances.

To make these calculations, the International Residential Code, which is the dominant building code in the U.S. should be followed. It requires that heating and cooling equipment be sized with the help of Manual J, or a similar approved methodology. However, the rule is too often ignored. Studies have demonstrated that heating and cooling equipment is far too often over-sized, often by as much as 200%.

So before you hire a contractor, this is one thing you should quiz him about. Does he follow this protocol (even though your local code may not require it)? After all, a new HVAC system is a big investment and it’s your investment, not his.

Other Ways to Determine HVAC Size

If you really want to be sure that all the factors are being figured correctly, do it yourself and follow Manual J. You will need to determine the U-factors of building components such as windows, doors, insulated walls, determine the “outdoor design temperature” for your area, take an estimate about airtightness, and finally use a heat-loss formula to determine how much energy in Btu your home loses through the building exterior.

You can also hire a pro. This might be a certified HERS rater, a mechanical engineer, or an energy consultant. You may be spending a bit more time and money up front, but generally speaking, contracting a trained professional third party who has no vested interest in selling you a particular brand or size of unit is far preferable to trusting a seat-of-the-pants estimate that might be questionable.

In any event, always be sure that you and any contractor are on the same page before any work begins. Whenever this much money is involved it is always in your best interest.

I hope this information on determining the correct size for a new HVAC system has helped you. If so, pass the URL along to your friends. Thanks for visiting!


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About the author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation and financial and energy trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.


10 DIY New Year Projects to Tackle–Part 2

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See the Previous 5 DIY New Year Projects

Install a Pre-hung Door

An Exterior  Pre-hung Door
An Exterior Pre-hung Door

Some things in life just get easier. Hanging doors is one of those things thanks to the pre-hung doors available at home improvement stores. No mortising, no muss, no fuss. To make things even easier, hardware clips called The Quick Door Hanger are available to eliminate shimming the door jamb in the rough opening. Basically, all you need is a 4′ level or plumb bob, a measuring tape, a pencil, and a cordless drill with a Phillips bit. I’ve gotten to where I can hang a door in about 15 minutes. Life is good.

Frame Out Your Basement

Wood framing in a basement
Wood framing in a basement

Basements are often basically unused, wasted spaces. This is really a shame because framing and finishing it out expands your living space and boosts your home equity. I mean, that space is included in your property taxes anyway, right? This is a great project that can be put on your schedule for any time of the year. Learn the basics of framing a basement and some of the options that are available to you. Yes, this is a DIY project but you might need to pull some building permits. Always check your local building code.

Dieting is One of the Most Popular New Years Resolutions

Healthy food for weight loss
Healthy food for weight loss

Exercising, putting down the cigarettes, and going on a diet; these are the big 3 New Years resolutions. But there are a plethora of choices when choosing a diet. Which one is right for you? Which one can you realistically stick to? Inform yourself with these 10 most popular diets today.

Give Your Walls a Face Lift On a Budget

Colorful walls & energy efficient windows
Colorful walls & energy efficient windows

Upgrading the look of your walls is a great way to give your living space a fresh look on a shoestring budget. You can add a bolder texture, hang wallpaper, or choose paint colors that give the illusion of more space or higher ceilings. You can even paint over that dark paneling that looked so cool back in the 60s. Which wall improvement is right for your home? Learn about wall options here. Some people hate painting but that’s the wrong way to look at it. It is one job where you can see the results of your labors in a very short time. Some BEHR paint has the primer built in which basically cuts your time in half.

Install Radiant Barrier Foil in Your Attic

Energy Q Radiant Energy Barrier Foil In the Attic
Energy Q Radiant Energy barrier Foil In the Attic

Sure, everybody knows about maxing out the recommended amount of insulation in the attic (according to location) but that only represents about half the money you could be saving on energy costs. Why not install radiant barrier energy foil over the insulation? The savings are two-fold–it keeps the heat out in the summer but keeps it in during the winter. I can tell you from experience that the colder months are the perfect time for this project. I did mine in March a few years back and it more than paid for itself during the first summer. If you use your attic and it has flooring, there’s no reason you can’t tack it to the underside of the roof sheathing. Or conversely, use the radiant barrier paint.

I certainly hope these 10 DIY New Years projects (the first 5 are on this page) have inspired you. If so, I would appreciate you sharing these pages with your friends. Have a great New Year and thanks for visiting!


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10 DIY New Year Projects to Tackle

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The clock is ticking down to the new year. That means many things but here are two to consider. Since spring will soon be here it’s time to start planning new year projects. After all, it is a time of new beginnings. Also, right around the temporal corner is income tax refund time to fund those new projects. This may be good news for many–under President Trump’s tax bill, the marriage penalty is mostly gone and the standard deduction is vastly improved.

With those considerations in mind, consider these 10 home improvement and personal improvement projects.

Start Exercising More

A healthy runner is a happy runner.
A healthy runner is a happy runner.

Pick your sport. For me that means running. Worried about the cold weather? Don’t. It’s not a problem with these cold weather running tips. Other activities are good candidates and one bit of good news is that many are quite inexpensive. Walking and running really only requires comfortable clothing and the right shoes. Cycling is great but requires a heavier investment. Swimming is good if you have access to a pool or open water such as a lake or a beach.

Install a Rainwater Collection Barrel

A Rainwater Harvesting Barrel
A Rainwater Harvesting Barrel

Rainwater collection or rainwater harvesting as it is sometimes called is becoming increasingly popular. The idea is simple; as you can see in the above photo, you just install the barrel under the downspout from your rain gutter. A screen on the top keeps leaves and other debris out. The black overflow tube at the top can be directed wherever you like and the spigot at the bottom is threaded to accept a garden hose. It works on the gravity feed principle and provides water for your garden or flower bed. Need more water? Link the overflow tube to another barrel. Using this water not only saves money on your water bill, but plants prefer the pH of rain as opposed to tap water.

Install an A/C Condenser Coil Misting System

Cool-N-Save A/C condenser misting paddle
Cool-N-Save A/C condenser misting paddle

This simple innovation will really save on your electrical bill during the summer heat. When the compressor kicks on, the upward breeze from the fan lifts the paddle. This opens the valve allowing cool water to flow to the four misting nozzles. This lowers the ambient air temperature which reduces the amount of work the condenser coils must do. This inexpensive tweak saves money and installation requires only about 30 minutes and some basic hand tools.

Make Needed Roofing Repairs

A new roof with a dormer
A new roof with a dormer

Having a solid, secure roof is critical. They can really take a beating during the winter. They should be inspected, and repaired if needed, twice a year. Minor repairs such as replacing individual shingles or flashing can be done on an individual DIY basis. For more extensive work, hire a roofing contractor.

Build a Walk-In Kitchen Pantry

A Walk-In Kitchen Pantry
A Walk-In Kitchen Pantry

If your home is anything like ours, there’s just not enough storage space in the kitchen. My solution? I built a walk-in kitchen pantry. As you can see in the photo, the back door in the kitchen opened into the garage. I just “stole” some space from the garage and installed the walls (with insulation), turned the existing door into a case opening, and added an energy-efficient door into the rest of the garage. If you are comfortable with framing, hanging drywall, and laying ceramic tile, this is a great weekend DIY project. Follow the link for details.

I certainly hope these DIY New Years projects have inspired you. If so, I would appreciate you sharing these pages with your friends. Have a great New Year and thanks for visiting!

See the Next 5 DIY New Year Projects Here


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Choosing the Right Trees

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U.S. Hardiness Zone Map
U.S. Hardiness Zone Map

Trees in our yards serve many purposes. Some are ornamental, some bear fruit, some are for privacy, and some provide shade which reduces energy bills. With that in mind, when choosing the right trees you must ask yourself what purpose they will serve.

How to Choose Fruit Trees

Many people want their own fruit trees and why not? Free food is great. Also, for some of us it’s a nice, fuzzy feeling that comes with the assurance that the fruit is truly organic. I myself fall into that category; I once made the commitment to plant one fruit tree per year. Now, I’ve about run out of real estate.

The mistake many people make is neglecting to research the required chill hours the trees need. I see it all the time; people buying trees at the local big box store. They plant them and wait. No fruit cometh forth. The map at the top of this page will show you the zone you live in and the corresponding temperature range. You might pay more for trees at a nursery but you will know what you are getting.

Republic of Texas Orange Tree
My Republic of Texas Orange Tree

Choosing Shade Trees

Shade trees are very beneficial. They help to maximize your energy efficiency. When they shade your house from the sun, you save money.  Basically, the southern side of your home will receive up to three times more sunlight than the western and eastern facing sides in the wintertime, and just one third as much during the hot summertime. Deciduous trees are a better choice than evergreens because they lose their leaves in the wintertime when you benefit from the warming sun.

Planting trees with this in mind is called a passive solar concept. One note of caution–do not plant them too close to the house or you risk root damage to your foundation. Large trees should be no closer than thirty feet away and small ones no closer than eight feet away.

Choosing Privacy Trees

Privacy trees keep those pesky peeping neighbors at bay and deter crooks from seeing what property you have on your property. Some good candidates are Thuja Green Giant, Leyland Cypress, Emerald Green Arborvitae, and Italian Cypress. Since they are relatively fast growing, the benefits arrive quickly.

A Row of Privacy Trees
A Row of Privacy Trees

Trees are not only helpful; they also add a lot of equity to your home. Select and plant them properly and they’ll take care of you. Remember to care for them with pruning and a fertilization schedule and your investment will be protected for years to come.


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Rainwater Harvesting 101

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Rainwater harcesting or rainwater collection
A typical rainwater harvesting barrel

Rainwater harvesting or rainwater collection as some call it has been gaining in popularity. There was a time when folks didn’t think much about using water. After all, it is inexpensive and flows from the tap; in our society hauling it home from a well or stream is the stuff of nostalgic folklore.

But that is not the case in many parts of the world. And since we now revel in global awareness, the availability of potable water has become a push-button issue among the green conscious folks among us.

In some parched parts of India men take on an additional spouse whose duty is to transport water from the source to the dwelling–it is a full time job. These “water wives” are often widows or single mothers wishing to “regain respect” in their communities. He notes that they usually do not share the marital bed and often live in separate apartments.

Minimizing Our Use of Potable Water

In our efforts to lower out consumption of tap water we have already trended towards the new normal; in the mid-’90s water conservation laws came into effect, creating the much-dreaded “low-flow” toilet. We also now have low-flow showers (dang it).

Still, it does seem wasteful to expend processed, fluoridated tap water to do things like water the lawn and flower beds. Besides, plants prefer the pH of rain over tap water. Win, win. That is where rainwater harvesting comes in. For residential use it is fairly straightforward. All you really need is a barrel with a screen on top. The water comes from the gutters on the roof line.

A rainwater collection barrel with a mesh filtering screen

How to Install a Water Harvesting Barrel

The good news for homeowner is that installing the system is simple and calls for few tools. The one pictured above is an Ivy 50 gallon barrel that I installed at my home this week. Online it lists for $89 but the small city that I live in teamed up with them for a bulk order for a deep discount.

The installation only took about 2 hours. The steps were as follows:

  1. Grade the ground level under the rain gutter downspout.
  2. Place 4 cinder blocks where the barrel will reside.
  3. Place the barrel on the blocks and measure up on the downspout approximately 8 inches from the lip of the barrel lid and use a square to mark a line on the front and sides of the downspout.
  4. Cut it off at this line. You can use a hacksaw but I used a small Dremel saw with a metal-cutting blade. It’s prettier and easier.
  5. Install the diverter (not included in the kit but just a few bucks at Home Depot) on the end of the now cut-off downspout. I used self-tapping screws and a cordless drill with a #2 Phillips bit.
  6. Place the barrel on the cinder blocks so that the diverter is over the lid of the barrel. Secure the lid to the barrel with zip-ties.
  7. Install the plastic cap on one side of the barrel and the overflow tube on the other side. These access ports are just under the lid sticking out from the barrel.
  8. Screw the tap into the bottom front of the barrel being careful not to cross thread it.
  9. The barrel must be secured to the exterior wall of your home or braced up somehow to prevent it from falling over. In the designer’s wisdom the barrel is wider at the top than it is at the bottom. In the image below you can see how I used Tapcon screws to secure a metal angle bracket to the brick. I had to drill the existing holes in the bracket bigger to accommodate the screw on one side and the bungee cord on the other. If we get some really bad weather (like a hurricane) I will add some heavy wire to back up the bungee cord.

Angle bracket with Tapcon screw and bungee cord

Where you live and how much collected water that you use makes a huge impact on how you set up your rainwater harvesting system. A 50 gallon barrel will do me just fine here in South Texas. But if you live in, say, the Pacific Northwest you can expand your system. Just add another barrel and connect it to the side where you placed the plastic cap on the port in step 7.


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Lower Electric Bills with an A/C Misting System


Cool-N-Save A/C condenser misting paddle
Cool-N-Save A/C condenser misting paddle

Summertime is here and the living is easy. Except perhaps for that high electricity bill from the incessant cycling of the air conditioner. Sure, you’ve beefed up the insulation, sealed leaks and perhaps installed radiant barrier foil in the attic. But there’s more you can do; you may be able to lower your electric bills with an A/C misting system.

Can a Condenser Coil Mister Save the Day?

I have been intrigued by this concept for a while now and with the South Texas temperatures flirting with triple digits and rising utility rates I decided this was the year to implement it. I already understood the cooling power of evaporating water, having worked with cooling towers and chilled water systems while working as an Engineering Supervisor for Marriott.

 

But this is a different application although the basic science is roughly the same. The one I installed at my home yesterday is the Cool-N-Save basic kit. Their claim is that the mist will lower the temperature of the air around the coils by as much as 30°F. This means that your HVAC system will not have to work as hard, consequently becoming more efficient and saving you money. Have I saved money yet? I don’t know! I just installed it yesterday. But I do have historic data and I’ll update this post when I have some hard numbers.

Curious about the science? Heat flux, thermal flux, heat flux density, or heat flow rate intensity is a flow of energy per unit of area per unit of time. Call it what you will, heat flux is at its most efficient whenever the outdoor ambient air temperature is lower than the refrigerant flowing through inside the A/C coils. So the evaporative effect of the misting lowers the ambient temperature in the area around the condenser coils and bingo! Efficiency prevails.

How the Cool-N-Save Coil Mister Works

Cool-N-Save mister water filter
Cool-N-Save mister water filter

The basic kit comes with:

  • 1  Control valve and paddle
  • 3  2′ Misting arms (tubing from the control valve/paddle to the misting nozzles)
  • 3  Brass misting nozzles
  • 1  Cool Release water treatment filter (3 month life)
  • 1  20′ flexible water feed line
  • 1 Garden hose adapter

The only thing I added was a brass splitter with cut-off valves for my outdoor spigot so I can use the mister and garden hose concurrently.

A dedicated garden hose attaches to the supplied garden hose adapter whose tubing enters the filter. Another hose (cut from the 20′ line) connects the filter to the control valve on the paddle. The three misting arms connect to the control valve/paddle and dangle down three sides of the condenser respectively terminated by the misting nozzles. Use zip-ties in all the obvious places.

When the A/C cycles the fan in the condenser unit kicks off. This blows up the paddle and enables water flow to the misting nozzles. It’s that elementary, Watson. (Pardon the inevitable Sherlock Holmes reference.)

Regular readers of my energy efficiency  articles know that I stress incremental changes; it is generally many small to large changes, not just one huge one that will reap savings. An A/C misting system is my latest energy tweak. I’ll be back in touch with results.


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Best Way to Install a Misaligned Sink Drain During Remodeling


Snappy Trap sink drain
Snappy Trap sink drain

During new construction installing sink drains is easy-everything is configured to work together. During a kitchen or bathroom remodeling project it can be a completely different story. You can bet that things will not line up using new components.

Case in point: in the course of re-building in the aftermath of the flood due to Hurricane Harvey we’ve got new cabinets and sinks.  I needed to match up with the existing wall drainpipe. It came as no surprise that the hook-up was not the straight shot that the original was. I needed a solution.

A Flexible Solution for Connecting Drain Lines

After looking at a number of solutions I settled on the Snappy Trap. It seemed like the easiest to install and the price was right. It comes in several configurations-single sink, double-sink, etc.

In my case I used two single-sink kits since I have two drainpipe p-traps that converge into one drain. Of course, in a situation with a double-sink and one  drainpipe, the Snappy Trap 1 1/2″ all-in-one-drain kit for double bowl kitchen sinks will give the best results.

In any case, one of the important benefits over other systems is that with this product the flexible tube has a smooth interior. This prevents build-up and excessive odor.

The System is Dishwasher-Friendly

The elbow that connects to the sink strainer tailpipe has a dishwasher drain connection nipple that points up at an angle so that there will not be any back flow up into the sink (see the picture below).

Snappy Trap sink drain with dishwasher connector
Snappy Trap sink drain with dishwasher connector

This is a convenient option but if you don’t plan on connecting a dishwasher, simply leave the cap on and you’re good to go.

Installing a misaligned sink drain during remodeling without hiring an expensive plumber is a thing of the past. If you’ve got some basic tools and some DIY common sense, dive right in. The hardest part is crawling in the cabinet.

 


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How to Select a Roofing Contractor


A new roof with a dormer
A new roof with a dormer

It’s simple. If you have a home you have a roof. Just as a residential fence protects your yard, your roof protects the interior of your home. Even renters need a roof although your landlord is generally liable for repairs like roofing and siding. But if you need to select a roofing contractor here are the things you need to know since a new roof is a rather large investment.

First, Decide on What Kind of Roofing Material You Want

You basically first have to choose between a metal or shingle roof. This is important because some contractors do it all but some simply focus on one kind of material. You don’t want a contractor to “practice” or “train new hires” on your dime.

Metal roofs will cost you more but they last longer and are very fire resistant. Consider this if your home is in the vicinity of fires spread by the Santa Ana winds.

Questions to Ask Potential Roofing Contractors

You can create a short list by going to a service like Angie’s List or Networx. You can also ask neighbors who have recently had roof service. After you have a short list it’s time to ask some questions.

  • Do you use nails or staples? Nails are far superior in windy conditions.
  • Have you ever had to deal with a mechanics lien? If so, it generally means he hadn’t paid his workers in a timely manner. Not a good thing.
  • Are you bonded? Do you carry Workers compensation and contractor’s liability insurance? The answer should be a resounding “yes.”
  • Are you willing to sign a binding contract? Life happens to all of us but nothing is worse than a roofing contractor pulling off the job halfway through to deal with something else.
  • How is your record with the BBB.

These are just some things you need to ask before signing on the dotted line. Protect yourself and your pocketbook.


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Puzzled by Your Home Electrical Issues?



A properly-labeled circuit breaker panel
A properly-labeled circuit breaker panel

Almost everything we do in our homes and work-spaces involve electricity. From refrigerators to night-lights, electricity is involved at the most local level. Today, most of us take it for granted since it has always been there.

But it hasn’t always been there, which for most of us is a difficult concept to grasp. A political hot-potato has always been how power is generated. Coal, gas, solar energy, or nuclear? It is hard to get a consensus.

One of the only constants is the bleating from the NIMBY states (Not In My Back Yard). California comes to mind–send us our power but don’t make it here; it;s not “clean”. Hypocrites.

So, with all that in consideration, here are a few of my musings on the subject of power, power, power.

Electricity is Delivered Through Conduits

It doesn’t just show up like an expected relative. No, it enters your home through the main line into your circuit breaker box. From there it is routed where it needs to go depending on where it was designed to go.

Whenever you move into a home it is advisable to always map your electrical circuits before trouble transpires. When an issue arises you will need to know where things start and where they go, so to speak.

Depending on the age of your residence, your local electrical code, and the type of devices you install, the means of delivering that electrical power may vary.

How to Save Money on Your Power Bill

One of the big problems concerned with your home electricity is that the cost tends to be in flux. Unless you are a big fan of studying natural gas and coal futures it is hard to predict when the price will rise. The  best thing you can do is maximize your home’s energy efficiency in advance. Here are a few money saving tips to consider.

  • Keep your HVAC system in tip-top shape. Having it tuned up twice a year, when the seasons are changing is one way. Calibrate your thermostat; it might not be accurate. Change out your return air filter once a month or as recommended.
  • Consider your old tank water heater with a tankless water heater. There will be some up front costs but you will save money in the long run. Why pay too keep water heated in a tank when you are not using it?
  • Install blown insulation in exterior walls. This generally applies to older homes when insulation was not as big a home construction factor as it is today.
  • Install a radiant barrier in your attic. This is an excellent way to keep your home cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.
  • Install ceiling fans. This is a great way to keep the conditioned air where you need it when you need it. It is easy to install ceiling fans and they are inexpensive. Just remember to have the air blowing down in the summer and up in the winter.
  • Check your doors and windows for leaks. This should be done at least annually and some caulk and door sealing strips is generally all you need.

Hopefully this article helped you to understand your home electrical issues and save some money on your utility bills. Got more tips to share? List them in the comment section below.


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5 Ways to Refresh Your Walls on a Budget


Colorful walls & energy efficient windows
Colorful walls & energy efficient windows

Face it; contractor-built walls are just plain boring. There’s a reason for that. Actually, there are a couple of reasons. First, it is frugal to blast cheap texture through a hopper for a conventional orange peel texture. Secondly, that blah flat white paint? It is uninspiring but also frugal and allows for new homeowners to upgrade easily to a more attractive color and sheen.

Let’s take a look at some of the options we have for refreshing those tired, boring walls.

  1. Upgrade Your Texture

Contractor-applied texture is great for hiding drywall joints that were not properly finished but it is just a bit boring. Upgrading your wall texture is easy. I like to use a specialty roller like the one pictured below with watered down drywall compound (mud).

Use a drill and a ribbon mixer to thin the mud. It should easily drip off the mixer when the proper consistency is reached.

A texture roller
A texture roller

You can also used a regular paint roller with the nap of your choice for a less pronounced effect.

2  Paint Your Walls to Make Your Room Appear Larger

Not all homes are as large as we want them to be. Older homes can be notoriously small, especially stairways and halls; not a good thing for the claustrophobic among us. But rest assured that there are ways to open up that space.

Lighter color paint, especially in brighter sheens like eggshell and gloss create the illusion of more space. Wallpaper with vertical patterns give the illusion of more height.

3  Paint Over Old Paneling

Dark paneling may have been quite the thing in the 50s and 60s but today it looks old and dated. Removing it can be messy especially if adhesive was used. Luckily, it is easy enough to paint over wood paneling.

If it has vertical grooves, you will need to skim those with drywall compound and lightly sand the surface before texturing and painting.

4  Install Crown Molding

Polyurethane crown molding
Polyurethane crown molding

Installing crown molding will give even the drabbest rooms a touch of class. You’re not limited to wood either. Today you can find it in polyurethane and PVC which makes it easy to work with.

Fancy door trim styles
Fancy door trim styles

5  Install New Door and Window Trim

Contractor-grade door and window trim is just boring. In just a few hours you can remove it and replace it with trim that will give your walls a shot of style and class.

Kits are available at stores like Home Depot. All you will need is:

  • Tape measure
  • Miter saw or radial arm saw
  • Stool or ladder
  • Finish nail gun or hammer and nails
  • Nailset
  • Spackling
  • Paint and brush
  • Painter’s tape

I hope the above tips on refreshing your walls on a budget proved inspirational and informative. Got any tips of your own? Share them with our readers in the comment box below.


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The Green Frugal

Running Across Texas

 

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