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Make Your Own Christmas Grotto

Make Your Own Christmas Grotto

This the season to be jolly… But unfortunately, it’s 2020 and that means your family Christmas has been furloughed.

But don’t despair. There’s always the great outdoors.

Maybe creating Santa’s grotto in your backyard sounds like a challenge, but it might be easier than you think. And since outdoors is the only place you may safely meet family and friends this year, it is worth investing some effort in.

So how do you do it? 

Create your grotto

If you are lucky enough to have a shed already, this is the obvious venue for Santa to visit. But if not, don’t fret. 

There’s still time to construct a shed, but if that seems like hassle, there are plenty of construction workers looking for work at this time of year.

But if a shed is not an option, then a gazebo can do just as well – and doesn’t have to break the bank.

A gazebo (or pergola) can be dressed up to become the magical grotto of your dreams. But because they are quite flimsy, care must be taken to ensure they are right for the winter conditions. 

Draping plastic over the back and sides will protect it from hostile snowflakes and then you can add a large throw to evoke the spirit of Christmas.  

And don’t forget the seating – no cave is complete without Santa’s throne!

Christmas Grotto

Light it up

No Christmas fairytale is complete without lighting. Fortunately, the advent of LEDs make this one a cinch. It has never been easier to add fairy lights to any garden. 

And they are just the start, for an extra helping of stardust add lanterns to complete the impression.

Spruce your trees up

Got a pine tree already? Then you’re in business. But even if you haven’t, hanging decorations on any tree is a surefire way to transform it into an enchanted forest. 

Add baubles and lights to all your trees and shrubbery for a truly magical feel.

Baby, it’s cold outside…

Everything looks great, but there’s one thing. It’s freezing.

Of course it is, it’s December.

If you plan on spending any time in your cave – rather than admire it from inside with a hot toddy – then don’t forget to heat it up.

If you don’t have them, a patio heater or brazier could help bring a cozy glow to your Christmas soiree – which will be warmly welcomed by your guests.

Just don’t forget to toast those marshmallows over the open firelight!

And remember, for all your construction projects Sea To Sky is ready to assist you!

How To Hire A Construction Professional

How To Hire A Construction Professional

There are so many things to think about when hiring a construction pro; what your budget is, how you envisage the result turning out, that sometimes it’s easy to forget some important stuff.

Like choosing your builder or construction company, all too often people go with the first quote they get, but this is a mistake, as we set out below.

Here are our expert tips for hiring the right construction professional for your home and project needs.

Ask about 

The best place to start is asking people you know for referrals. It might seem crazy that even in this high-tech age, word of mouth counts for so much, but it really does. Instinctively you’re more likely to trust someone who a friend recommends than some anonymous review online.

Is there someone near you who has had a recent remodel or work done? 

Get chatting with your neighbors to see who they used. Bear special attention to projects similar to your own.

Other construction professionals are also good sources of information. If you know an interior designer or architect, they may be able to refer you to a reputable construction firm as well. 

Get to know some builders

We don’t mean hanging out on building sites, but when you begin making enquiries into construction firms, get a conversation going between you and the potential candidate.

When conversing with construction personnel, take note of their approach to your job. Are they confident, keen, well versed in the kind of thing you want them to do?

Have they provided a free quote with no obligations and done so speedily when asked? 

If there’s a significant time delay in responding to your questions, this should be a warning sign. 

Check their recent work

Once you have a contractor in mind, it is time to check out their back catalog. If they have a website, they should have some pictures of their previous contracts and possibly, testimonials from homeowners.

If the homes they have worked on are nearby, go and look for yourself at the build’s quality. And if possible, speak to the homeowners themselves about the job. Would they recommend that contractor?

Check their credentials

Next, you have to check your potential contractor’s credentials, this means any trade certification, qualifications, registration with professional bodies and finally licenses. 

Depending on where you are in Canada, a construction worker may not need a license, but some provinces (British Columbia is one of them) do. Check with your authority that your builder is registered.

Check their references 

Once you have decided to hire someone, they should provide you with two references (at least) which need to be checked. Take the time to follow up the references your tradesperson gives you and if they haven’t provided any then it is time to start asking. 

Check who the references are from. Are they former employers or clients? If not, is their opinion trustworthy?

Some questions to bear in mind to ask of referees include how did you find the contractor, was the project completed on time and on budget and what was the quality of the build?

Check the contract 

Don’t be tempted to start a job without a contract. And when you have got a deal, make sure you read it through carefully and understand everything before signing it.

If there’s anything you don’t understand, now’s the time to ask about it – before you sign anything.

Make sure all permits have been granted and all costing finalized before signing the final draft.

How to Hire A Contractor

Expect the unexpected

No matter how efficient the contractor, there is always the possibility that things might change. And projects going over budget are not an uncommon thing. 

Always be prepared for the fact that things don’t always go to plan. Extra expenses happen and it is just as well to budget for them. We would say allow a 10% margin of error for your budget, and that also goes for the timescale! 

Be assured, most contractors are not cowboys and by following these simple tips you will be sure to find the right person for the job. 

Hire a Home Inspector for a New Construction Home?

When my wife and I decided to purchase a new construction home, we did what most prudent shoppers do: we researched areas and schools, analyzed the economic growth potential of the town, “got a feel” for neighborhoods, and checked out the reputation and quality of local homebuilders. What we almost failed to do was hire an independent home inspector prior to closing, but we took the advise of family and friends, and did it anyway.

Given that the house was “new” construction, we were naive in thinking that everything would be perfect, or at least in such great shape, that any minor flaws later discovered would be just that, minor. Suffice it to say, the additional expense of hiring an inspector was well worth it. For example, the first “minor” item that our inspector discovered was the presence of small punctures across our roof. It was determined that the cause was likely from foot traffic during the application of the shingles by the crew working on it. His recommendation was that these (damaged) shingles should be replaced. While he was up there, he also noticed that some of the shingles were loose, and could be easily lifted with 2-3 fingers.

Another area of concern was in our attic; we specified a certain level of insulation, which in the construction industry is measured in terms of an “R” factor (i.e. R-30 insulation factor in our case would be approx. 15.2 inches of insulation) In reality, we only had about 12.5 inches of insulation, which by my math calculations was almost 3 inches shy of the goal. It may not seem like much, but we did pay for a higher amount of insulation when we selected our upgrades at the beginning of the home-buying process.

Other items included: a misaligned interior door (that hit the frame when closed), lack of electrical power in three kitchen sockets, dirty drain pan as part of the A/C system, damaged outside water faucet, gaps around bath faucets that needed caulking, and a few other minor flaws. Unbelievable as it was to us that so many things could be wrong, I questioned “how” and “why?”; while our builder was extremely responsive and addressed (fixed) every item within two days, they explained that it was not uncommon for these things to happen, and here is why:

The main reason is that the builder hires a General Construction Manager, often referred to as the “GC”; this is the person or organization who is ultimately responsible for coordinating all aspects of the construction process, including but not limited to: ordering supplies, hiring contractors and subcontractors for framework, plumbing, mechanical and electrical engineering, roofing, landscaping, etc. What this means is that at any one time, a variety of contractors could be working on building your home. In addition, and this is particularly true in newly constructed communities, the contractors or sub-contractors being used, might also employ different crew members from day to day. For instance, if an employee of the roofing contractor is out one day, that roofer may pull one of the guys from another house that doesn’t need him, to go work on your house. This could occur with any contractor at any stage of the building process, thus adding a dimension of unwanted inconsistency during the construction of your home.

Another possibility could be that since these contractors work on so many homes, many of them with the same or similar floor plans and elevations, there tends to be an aspect of the job that is mundane because of its repetitive nature. That could potentially lead to mistakes, laziness, or even indifference during the performance of their workmanship. So is it worth the added expense of hiring an Independent Home Inspector? We think so; I consider the set-back of $450 minor when compared with the possibility that I could have found myself replacing a roof, having higher energy bills, or a broken-down A/C system because I failed to have these things checked out.

Finding a Home Inspector is relatively easy and affordable. You can obtain a quick list from your local Chamber of Commerce or Yellow Pages, or even the Internet. We have been quoted in the range of $350 – $500 in the Fort Worth, TX area, and I imagine they are similar throughout the U.S. Some factors may affect their fees, such as square footage of the home or additional services, like lead-paint testing (likely not needed for new construction based on current regulation), water testing and radon testing. The best choice is one that you are comfortable with in terms of price, reputation and service. Many inspectors provide prompt on-line reporting with photos, which was very helpful for us as we were relocating from across the country and were not able to attend the inspection.

As a final thought on purchasing a new construction home, don’t assume that an inspection guarantees everything is perfect. They do provide disclaimers about what they do not inspect for and there is the chance that they missed something as well (hopefully not!). Another item to consider is that an inspector may not know about other items you specified with you builder. For example, we wanted the tile in our entryway to extend all the way towards the center of the house, near where the family room began, where it would be met by the carpet we chose. Well, when we arrived at the house (after the home inspection), we discovered that the builder mistakenly ended the tile short of where we specified, in the foyer. Fortunately, we had a very reputable and responsive builder, and they offered to either correct the problem or compensate us in some other way. We ended up leaving it as is, and convinced the builder to install two garage door openers with sensors and remote controls, at no additional cost!

Some builders are not as nice or willing to be flexible, so be prepared for anything, even with new construction homes!

How to Choose Exterior House Paint Colors

Choosing exterior house paint colors can feel like an overwhelming task if a homeowner goes blindly into the project. Walk into any home improvement store and a customer will find a massive amount of color paints to choose from. The good news is that there are exterior professional painters that help with that and also here are a few color rules that can help eliminate some of the guesswork when needing to choose exterior house paint colors.

Are you ready to try something other than white paint for your exterior house color scheme? Here are a few tips to keep in mind during your next house painting project. Planning ahead is the key to make any home improvement project a success, especially when painting a house.

Do you want your house exterior to have a lively appearance? If that’s the case, then focus on choosing a warm color scheme. Would you rather have your house exterior look more subtle to the outside world? If so, then painting a house with a cool color scheme going to make it more likely to blend in with its surrounding environment.

Now that you’ve chosen between warm or dark colors for your painting project, it’s time to decide whether your exterior house will have a dark color scheme or a light color scheme. In general, the lighter your color scheme, the more eye-catching your house will appear (because light colors contrast with most natural environments). If you want your house exterior to closely match its outdoor environment, then painting a darker color scheme will likely be your best bet.

An accent color is another painting project to include when planning exterior house colors. When you’ve decided on the color of your house’s main areas, the accent color (to be used on the places such as around the windows and on the door) can help pull in the entire look. For instance, a lighter accent color against a darker main exterior house color helps a small house appear larger. And remember, just because this is an accent color does not mean it shouldn’t fit in with your overall color scheme. Choosing an accent color that adds pizazz, but still looks good with the main house color will prevent any unsightly clashing of colors.

Take the time to gather the right color scheme for your house exterior before getting up on that ladder and your painting project will go much more smoothly. Home improvement does not have to mean pulling a “Tim Allen” (with DIY blunders galore) any longer.

Cordwood Construction

Cordwood construction is the process of building a wall out of stacked cordwood-just like fire wood-with the exception that mortar is set between the pieces of cordwood to secure them in place. This amazing beautiful and ancient technique for building utilizes smaller logs that would be unsuitable for conventional log cabin building. Curved walls, unique as each individual log, makes for exciting design opportunities that are both economical and practical.

While cordwood construction looks as if it’s supporting the walls up, many times, they are not. A basic frame and roof system are built first, then walls are backfilled in, similar to brick home construction. Although a cordwood wall could support some roofing structures, many local building codes prevent that from happening.

Since the roof goes up first, it is very easy to work on cordwood walls in all kinds of acclimate weather conditions. A complete mortar or cobb mixing station can be set up under the cover of a dry roof. This makes cordwood building techniques a first class all-weather project.

Cordwood construction contains another unique element. As cordwood is cut to whatever thickness you want the wall, a cavity is created between the two opposite sides of the masonry walls. Insulation is then able to be placed in between the two walls, creating an R-factor that is incomparable to conventional wall building insulation.

To further the green factor as well as the R-factor, use cobb masonry. Cobb is the use of mud, straw and Portland to create an adobe like cement that bonds just about to anything and is very simple to make.

One of the most common misconceptions of cordwood construction is that the ends of the logs rot. If you build your roof overhang out to 24″, keep all cordwood pieces off of the ground 3′ and build on a solid foundation like stone or block, rot will be impossible. Use rot free logs with no bark and avoid wood on wood contact to avoid future problems with rot.

Surviving the New Construction Process

Starting From Scratch, The New Construction Project

Many people are overwhelmed by the new construction process. It’s one of my favorite things.

If you have ever been through the process you know what I mean. Maybe you have sworn to never do it again or maybe, even though it was horrific, you couldn’t help but subject yourself, again. Whether your first time or fourth it can be daunting. The goal of this article is to help you get off to a good start.

As with any real estate transaction you, the buyer, is trying to get the most for your money and the seller, your builder, is trying to give you as little as possible for your money. What most new construction buyers may not realize is that new construction is negotiable. All of it, and the sooner the negotiations begin the better. So here’s what you do:

Find the Perfect Spot
Consider how you live, do you need privacy? Would you like your neighbors close enough to chat? Figure out what you want from your development then find a few that meet those needs so that you have options.

Compare Each Development
Don’t hesitate to look at a more expensive development you might find they offer more options as standard. You wouldn’t believe what some builders do not consider standard. Read every piece of paper in the brochure. Ask the builder’s agent what is standard, what is extra. Get an example of a typical upgrade and what it would cost.

Get the Most for Your Money
Choose the home and development that offers you the most of what you need as part of the starting price. Then consider your upgrades.

Identify your changes or upgrades, windows, floor plan changes, flooring, kitchen or bath upgrades. Identifying these changes before you sign the contract gives you more bargaining power toward the cost of your new home. These things can all be negotiated up front and made part of your offer. It is difficult to negotiate the price of your wood floors once you’ve signed the contract. You are bound to pay the standard upgrade charge.

Make a list of your preferred upgrades or changes, assign a number to each, one being the most important and so on. Determine the charge for each (usually listed in the brochure, if not call the builder’s agent) and include a dollar amount for each upgrade. Total it up. If you’re way over budget start knocking off the things lower on the priority list.

Make an Offer
Depending on the housing market, how well the neighborhood is selling, make an offer. Considering the starting price, plus the upgrade charges, come up with a number that’s fair but well in your favor. They will counter, be prepared with your walk away number, and stick to it.

Share your new construction advice and experiences.

Visit for more new construction advice and check out the New Construction Workbook, a step by step guide to help you manage the process.

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