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Everything You Wanted to Know about Hardwood Floors

One of the most asked for features in a home search is hardwood floorsHardwood floors are easy to maintain, go with any decor, and are essential for those with dust and mold allergies.

If you buy a house with existing hardwood floors, you take what you have, maybe refinish and you’re done.  But if you buy a carpeted home and decide to install hardwood floors then you are faced with a wide array of choices – wood, laminate, color, finish, etc. etc.

Those decisions are personal and often budget driven. To help you navigate your choices and make an informed decision, we found a great Web site from the World Floor Covering Association.  One of the things we particularly liked was this glossary of terms:

Everything You Wanted to Know about Hardwood Floors

Above Grade Any floor that is above the level of the surrounding ground on which the structure is built.

Acrylic Impregnated Acrylic monomers are injected into the cell structure of the wood to give increased hardness and then finished with a wear layer over the wood.

Acrylic Urethane A slightly different chemical make up than Polyurethane with the same benefits.

Aluminum Oxide Added to the urethane finish for increased abrasion resistance of the wear layer, which is becoming extremely popular on the better grade wood floors.

Below Grade A cement slab poured below the level of the surrounding terrain.

Better A quality of oak. Better Oak has some small knots and very little dark graining.

Hardwood Floor

Beveled Edge These products have a very distinctive groove in them. Beveled edge planks lend themselves to an informal and country decor. With the urethane finishes applied at the factory today, the beveled edges are sealed completely, making dirt and grit easy to be swept or vacuumed out of the grooves.

Buckle In the summer months, when the humidity is higher, wood will expand and gaps will disappear. If there is too much moisture it may cause the wood planks to cup, or buckle.

Clear A quality of oak. Clear Oak has no visual blemishes or knots and is extremely expensive.

Cross-ply Construction Engineered wood plies that are stacked on top of each other but in the opposite direction is called cross-ply construction. This creates a wood floor that is dimensionally stable and less affected by moisture than a 3/4″ solid wood floor. Cross-ply construction allows the plies to counteract each other which will stop the plank from growing or shrinking with the changes in humidity. The other advantage for you is versatility. You can install these floors over concrete slabs in your basement as well as anywhere else in your home.

Cupping A type of warping with a concave condition; the sides are higher than the center.

Eased Edge Each board is just slightly beveled. Some manufacturers add an eased edge to both the length of the planks as well as the end joints. Eased edges are used to help hide minor irregularities, such as uneven plank heights. Eased edge is also called micro-beveled edge.

Engineered One of the three common types of wood floors. (Others are Solid and Longstrip Plank.) Engineered wood floors are generally manufactured with 2,3, or 5 thin sheets or plies of wood that are laminated together to form one plank. Most engineered floors can be nailed down, stapled down, glued down, or floated over a wide variety of subfloors, including some types of existing flooring.

Finish in Place Finish in Place, or unfinished hardwood, is installed in the home and then sanded. The stain and 2-3 coats of urethane finish are then applied. The urethane finish, brushed or mopped on, is known as a “floor finish” not a “furniture finish”. Finish in Place floors may be screened and recoated to rejuvenate the finish and revitalize the floor’s natural beauty.

Floating Floor Installation With the floating installation method the floor is not mechanically fastened to any part of the subfloor. A thin pad is placed between the wood flooring and the subfloor. Then a recommended wood glue is applied in the tongue and groove of each plank to hold the planks together. The padding has its advantages: it protects against moisture, reduces noise transmission, is softer under foot, and provides for some additional “R” value. Some engineered floors and all Longstrip floors can be floated.


Glue Down The recommended mastic or adhesive is spread on with the proper sized trowel to adhere the wood flooring to the subfloor. You should know that engineered wood floors and parquets can be glued down. Solid strip floors and plank floors can only be nailed or stapled.

Graining Each wood species has its own unique graining and texture. The graining on the boards is determined by the way it has been cut. Natural variations in the color and grain are normal and to be expected.

Janka Hardness Test This wood hardness rating test measures the force needed to embed a .444 inch steel ball to half its diameter in a piece of wood. The higher the number the harder the wood. Although this is one of the best methods to measure the ability of wood species to withstand indentations, it should be used as a general guide when comparing various species of wood flooring.

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Posted by Michael Bergin | Currently 17 Comments »

Top 10 Kitchen Trends for 2010

Like all industries, the kitchen and bath folks like to announce and pronounce trends to make us all sit up and take notice. 

This latest offering of the top ten kitchen trends for 2010 is from the National Kitchen and Bath Association’s poll of design professionals.

One of the big trends is to hide as much as possible.  We’re not talking a “coffee garage” tucked into a corner.  Nope, this is serious hiding – under the counter refrigerator drawers, dishwashing drawers, drawers for appliances – all so these necessities will not interfere with the design esthetic.  

In all fairness, dishwashing drawers do allow for running smaller loads thus saving water and electricity – just not sure how long it would take to recoup the initial investment.

Some of the other trends:

Color: Shades of white and off-whites are the most common kitchen colors, followed by brown, beige, and bone hues.

Cabinetry: The most popular wood for kitchen cabinetry remains cherry, then maple. On the decline, painted cabinetry and light natural finishes and distressed finishes.

Design style: Traditional is still the most popular kitchen design with contemporary a close second.  (What would come in between?)

Flooring: Ceramic and porcelain tile and natural stone remain the most popular kitchen flooring but hardwood is making it’s presence felt.

Countertops: Granite is still the most popular option, but quartz is inching up.

What, no prediction on the future of stainless steel appliances?


Posted by Michael Bergin | Currently 1 Comment »

10 Hot New Home Products

The world of home improvement is vast – covering everything from paint to landscaping to a new light fixture.  But how to keep up with all the new products? 

Unfortunately weekly, if not daily, trips to the local hardware store or even the big box stores is just a dream.  1) I get lost in the maze of aisles and 2) I understand it’s grounds for divorce in Alexandria!

Lucky for us then that home improvement “what’s new” guru Don Longay , has done the leg work for us:

1) Giani Granite Countertop Paint –  the world’s first granite paint kit for countertop makeovers. Get the premium “look” of granite at a fraction of the cost. Water-based paint kits come in five realistic-looking color combinations and include everything needed to go “granite” in three easy steps in 24-hours or less. One $39.95 kit covers 35 square feet (16 running feet of 24-inch wide counter).  Available at paint and hardware stores nationwide. Visit www.GianiGranite.com or call 1-800-650-5699.

2) One2Flush Dual Flush Conversion Kit – in about 20-minutes, you can quickly and easily turn a standard water-guzzling tank-type toilet into an eco-friendly, high-efficiency, water-saving dual flush model that reduces water use by more than 38 percent and can save an average family over 10 percent on monthly water bills. Fits all standard two-piece toilets, 1.6-gallon flush and up. Starts paying for itself immediately. Available nationwide at most hardware stores (Ace, True Value, Do-It-Best). For more information visit www.one2flush.com.

3) Easy Crown Molding by EZ-A-PEEL – offers quick and easy installation and an inexpensive alternative to fancy millwork. Vacuum-formed thermoplastic design overlaps and adjusts to length without measuring. Can also be trimmed with scissors. Installs in about one hour and can be left white or painted to match décor. Offered in three popular crown molding profiles for various sized rooms with 16 inside and four outside corners included. Kits start at under $50. To order call 1-888-EZAPEEL (1-800-392-7335) or visit www.easycrownmolding.com.

4) Dead Bolt Secure Entry Lock Protection – offers a low-cost, ingenious solution that makes standard deadbolt
locks (with a lever or twist-type inside handle) virtually bump-key and pick-proof. It even blocks entry for anyone with a legitimate key. How? A simple spring-loaded device, that installs in minutes, flips down to prevent a dead bolt’s handle from turning — no matter how it is being unlocked. It only costs $9.95. Order online at www.arclink.net.

5) Aspect Peel and Stick Metal Wall Tile – three inch by five inch metal tiles adhere to any sub-surface (drywall, plaster, paneling, and old tiles) and are offered with horizontal or vertical graining. Give kitchens and baths a fresh, new look. Box of eight tiles covers 1-square-foot and costs about $20.  Available at some Lowe’s stores or order online at www.aspectideas.com.

6) Telezapper / Blocks Telemarketer Calls – this nifty little device plugs into your phone cord and only intercepts
computer-generated calls — indicating this number is disconnected — which automatically takes you off their list.  Other incoming calls are not affected. This product has actually been on the market for some time, “flying under the radar” if you will but the original and an updated model can both still be found at www.amazon.com and via online search engines at prices ranging from $40 to $10. Additional info at www.telezapper.com.

7) Liquid Stainless Steel Brush-on Paint Kit – award-winning Liquid Stainless Steel is the world’s first brush-on/roll-on “real stainless steel” finish designed to give older stoves, refrigerators and dishwashers a new lease on life. Complete kits are easy to use and update an average size refrigerator for $49 or a range and dishwasher combo for only $19.95. Works great on cabinets, table tops and in many other places too. Available at paint and hardware stores
nationwide. Order online at www.liquidstainlesssteel.com or call 1-800-650-5699.

8) Schlage Keyless Entry Locks and Wireless LiNK Option – Schlage electronic keypad entry locks and deadbolts — using four-digit access codes — are now both practical and affordable, offered in the $120 to $150 range. Company also offers Schlage LiNK, the first and only DIY wireless system allowing 24/7 remote control for keypad locks and other home management functions via the Internet. Lock or unlock doors from anywhere, add/remove access codes and control lights. Options include adjustable thermostat ($149) and cameras ($149 wired/$179 wireless) to see who is coming and going. Schlage LiNK Starter Kit ($299) offers choice of keypad lock (deadbolt or lever-handle) and everything needed to set-up a Z-Wave wireless system. Monthly subscription $12.99. Available at Lowe’s, Radio Shack, and www.amazon.com, or visit www.consumer.schlage.com for retailers.

9) Evoba Modular Wood Ceiling System – prefabricated Evoba system (that’s “Above” spelled backwards), offers the warmth and beauty of real wood without the cost of custom millwork. Pre-engineered main beams and cross-tee grid components surround 2-foot square, beautifully finished, recessed panels and offer easy installation. Available as a suspension or surface mount system, in a variety of wood species and finishes, at $12 to $30 per square foot. Available at  www.acpideas.com.

10) INVISILED Low Profile Accent Lighting Tapes – strips of miniature LED lights, spaced 1-inch apart, and placed on thin flexible strips only 1/8-inch thick and 7/16-inch wide, INVISILED by WAC Lighting offers five basic colors (white, amber, red, blue, and green). One- and 5-foot peel-and-stick or screw-mounted sections can be cut at every inch. Cost ranges $75 to $90 per foot. Plug-in drivers cost $60 to $120. Maximum spans from 25 feet to 40 feet. For information and retailers visit www.waclighting.com or call 1-800-526-2588.

I think I’m going try that Granite Countertop Paint, sounds like a great tip to pass along to my buyers  . . .


Posted by Michael Bergin | Currently 10 Comments »

The Market Square Shop in Old Town Alexandria

The Market Square Shop in Old Town Alexandria is a tiny jewel box of color and imagination.  A favorite among Alexandria insiders, the Market Square Shop engages the senses around that most primal of levels – the home.

Located on King Street just two blocks from the water in the historic Chequire House, the Market Square Shop is filled with beautiful fabrics, traditional home accents, wedding present perfect accessories, lamps, mirrors, and cases of Limoges, Halycon and Battersea boxes, all barely contained in a small, intimate space.

Started in 1955 by Majorie Land,  and Joan Leidner Miller, the Market Square Shop was one of the businesses that sparked the redevelopment of lower King Street and Old Town some fifty years ago.

The current proprietor, Bruce Schafer, joined Mrs. Land in 1985 and took over the business in 1995 when Mrs. Land retired.  Bruce is also one of my favorite reasons for visiting the shop. 

Dry, self-deprecating and disarmingly funny, Bruce is a master of understatement as well as a master of design.  He has, seamlessly, maintained the civilized, courteous and gracious atmosphere that was a hallmark of the store from its very inception.

Walking into the Market Square Shop is taking a slight step back in time  Bolts of fabric and trim are unfurled one at a time and samples are simply loaned on a signature.  

This is not a place to browse for endless hours (it’s not big enough) but if you want informed answers, thoughtful suggestions, personal attention and items selected with a careful eye, then this is the place for you.  Oh, don’t bother looking for a Web site though, there isn’t one.

Bruce described his job to me as “translating life into three dimension.”  Whether suggesting paint colors and fabric or designing the perfect love seat, Bruce and the magic of the Market Square Shop put into reality what you have only imagined.

The Market Square Shop in Old Town Alexandria is a very special place.  I love it and I think you will too

Virginia Amos 

Special thanks to my spouse for this personal look at an Old Town tradition.

Posted by Michael Bergin | Currently 7 Comments »

Are You Getting Bang for the Buck on Your Home Remodeling?

Last week we talked about getting bank for the buck on your home addition.  Today we are going to look at the numbers and see if you are getting bang for the buck on your home remodeling.

Our numbers are taken from this month’s issue of Remodeling Magazine and their annual “Cost vs. Value” report

The cost data are generated by gathering current cost information from a nation wide network of remodeling contractors and suppliers.  The model then uses an adjustment factor for regional price differences.

Alexandria and Northern Virginia are part of what is known as the “South Atlantic” which also includes Washington, D.C., Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and West Virginia.

The rooms here are what most homeowners tackle in a remodel – the bathroom, kitchen and basement.  I’m not sure remodeling a home office would be at the top of my list but  interpret it as remodeling a room to create a home office.

Two figures here point to the value of restraint.  Upgrading bathrooms and kitchens is still a smart move, particularly in older homes.  But,  according to this report, home owners will recoup the greatest share of costs by opting for mid-range bath and kitchen remodels rather than an over the top project.

A mid-range kitchen remodel will generate an average on 73.2 percent return on investment while an up-scale remodel returned only 63.2 percent.  A mid-range bathroom remodel returned an of average 71 percent while the up-scale project is nearly 10 points lower at 61.6 percent.

So whether you are starting to think about remodeling or are buying with the idea of remodeling, take a look at these figures before you commit to anything and make sure you are getting bank for the buck on your home remodeling. 

Call me at 703.927.4554 for more information. 


Related story:   Are You Getting Bang for the Buck on Your Home Addition?

Posted by Michael Bergin | Currently 1 Comment »

10 Big Impact, Low Cost Remodeling Projects

Here are 10 Big Impact, Low Cost Remodeling Projects for sellers who have some – but not unlimited –  cash for upgrades.

1)Tidy Up Kitchen Cabinets – Home owners should ‘strip down’ the insides of cabinets just like they do counter tops or book shelves.  Consider adding rollout organizing trays so when buyers peek in they feel like there’s lots of room for their stuff.

2)Add or Replace Tile – The addition of tile to replace a dated backsplash or create a new one will make a kitchen sparkle.  Check out inexpensive tiles in neutral colors at your local home store or at a builders resale outlet.

3)Add a Breakfast Bar – When a wall separates a kitchen from a family room, consider cutting out an opening for a breakfast bar.  Add an oversize granite and chairs and voila, a new open space.

4)Install Granite Tile Instead of a Slab – Homeowners can put in 12 inch granite tiles and still get very high impact for very little money.

5)Freshen Up a Bathroom without Retiling

Opt for a new medicine cabinet for $100-$150; a faucet for $50-$75; light fixtures for $100 or so; and a vanity for $200-$300. 

Instead of replacing tile, scrape, re-grout, and buff the existing tile.  If you have a stall shower, install a glass French door for about $250.  It adds a lot of panache and buyers will look at the door and not the tile.

6)Freshen Up the Basement – If you have cement block or poured concrete walls, have a contractor fill in cracks with hydraulic cement and then paint with waterproofing paint.  Then add a topcoat of color.  Do the same with the floor.  It may not be a finished basement but at least it won’t look like a dungeon.

7)Add a Room – Look for large spaces that can be enclosed to create a new bedroom just for the price of creating a wall.

8)Spruce Up Cabinet Fronts – Of course it depends on the size of your kitchen but for about $1,000 or less you can recondition your cabinets; for $1,500 – $4,000 you can replace cabinet doors and drawer fronts; and $4,000 to $12,000 would allow you to have all the cabinets refaced.  At the very least, replace the hardware.

9)Replace Light Fixtures – Replacing fixtures in foyers, bathrooms and kitchens can make a big difference.  Consider replacing track lighting with recessed can lights or hanging pendant lights over a kitchen island.

10)Tech-up the Garage – Replace the garage door opener with a remote touch pad entry system.

Thanks to Remodeling Magazine and REALTOR magazine for sharing these great tips for 10 Big Impact, Low Cost Remodeling Projects.


Posted by Michael Bergin | Currently No Comments »

Love the House You’re In or Retro Renovation is Hot!

Love the House You’re In is the tag line for a vintage home design blog called Retro Renovation – a must read for anyone even thinking about renovating a house built between 1940 and 1970.

In this area it’s sometimes easy to assign value only to the storied houses of Old Town Alexandria or the odd Victorian.  But what about the contemporary gems in Hollin Hills, the bungalows in Del Ray and the Cape Cod’s in Beverley Hills and along the parkway?

Does everyone have to have granite counter tops or stainless steel appliances?  Retro Renovation would definitely say NO!

Retro Renovation celebrates all things retro, from black and pink color schemes to turquoise kitchen cabinets to vintage appliances, wood paneling and cocktail shakers.   Just this week there is a particularly good thread on where to get old appliances fixed, with tons of resources from a variety of sources.

I also found a source in the Washington Post this weekend called the Old Appliance Club.

You can send an email and picture of the appliance and/or appliance part to [email protected] and they will then circulate it to 13 warehouses around the country that stock old stove parts.

Retro Renovation is the brainchild of  blogger Pam Kueber who, while doing research for the renovation of her own early 1950’s colonial/ranch in Lenox, Mass, decided to share her finds and her enthusiasm.

Pam has just started taking to the road with appearances at regional home shows so be sure and check out her calendar.  It’s fun, it’s quirky and it’s a great new way to think about your vintage home.

Special thanks to my friend and fellow Coldwell Banker agent, Liz Bolton of Cambridge, Mass who first alerted me to this site.  Liz writes a terrific blog called Centers & Squares and is your go to agent in the Boston area.

But, if you’re looking for something in Alexandria?  Well, put on your saddle shoes, your white bucks or your poodle skirt and let’s go (vintage) house hunting!

And remember, love the house you’re in – retro renovation is hot.


Posted by Michael Bergin | Currently No Comments »

Northern Virginia Pro’s Offer Smart Choices for Versatile Nursery Design

There was a great article in last week’s Washington Post about making smart choices for a really versatile nursery design that goes way beyond blue or pink.  The author, newly pregnant, was inspired to search out answers when confronted with adding color to her home’s neutral palate.

Check out these tips that she collected from several design pros in the Northern Virginia area and Maryland:

Although each of the designers the writer consulted had a different approach, they all agreed on one thing – Spend money on the things that will last the longest and pick the paint color last.  The idea being that picking the color first backs you into a color.

For the complete article on making smart choices for your nursery, sample colors  and great pictures, click here.  For a related article on color, click here.

Moving because you need a nursery?  Give me a call at 703.927.4554 and  let’s find that new house.


Posted by Michael Bergin | Currently No Comments »

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