January 19, 2018

Expert Tips For Choosing The Right Fountain For Your Outdoor Space

home inspector atlantaSpanish explorer Ponce de Leon spent many years and covered many miles searching for the fabled “fountain of youth.” Fortunately, you don’t have to go to those lengths to find a special fountain that will transform your backyard into a private oasis. You only need to make a trip to the local garden store.

Water’s ability to relax the human soul is virtually unmatched in the natural world. The gentle sounds of flowing water can wash stress from our lives, restoring and relaxing us. That universal appeal is making fountains more popular than ever with homeowners dealing with the stresses of modern life, including the economy and the need to hold on to and improve the homes they have.

The demand for fountains has led to the widespread availability of traditional designs, and some inspired modern creations by enterprising fountain makers.

“Our fountain category continues to grow,” says designer Peter C. Cilio, creative director of Campania International, a purveyor of garden accessories. “Customers want cast stone fountains, glazed, terra cotta and even light-weight – all types of fountains to bring the sight and sound of water into the garden in an easy, low-maintenance way.”

Jon Carloftis, renowned garden designer, agrees. “Water in the garden is an essential element,” he says. “Adding a fountain to your garden, even a small fountain, is a great investment.”

Here are some simple guidelines from the experts to help you choose the perfect fountain for your garden space:

What’s your style?

The most important consideration to keep in mind when choosing the right fountain is the overall style of your home and garden.

“People who love a beautiful garden are becoming more experienced and comfortable with their own styles and tastes outside,” says Cilio. “Whether you have an urban, contemporary or country garden, the fountain should be compatible with your personal style and the aesthetics of your house and garden.”

Today’s selection of fountains appeals to the broadest of palates, with choices available ranging from traditional European designs to more modern Zen-inspired pieces.

Carloftis reminds homeowners to keep proportion in mind. “It is everything in the garden,” he says. “Choose a fountain that will fit and feel good. And if you go big, be sure to keep it simple.”

Consider your space

Whether it graces a patio or the landscape, a free-standing fountain can be a mesmerizing focal point. The size of the fountain that you choose will depend on the size of your garden space.

“You could have a 4-by-6-foot pocket garden and put a small, beautiful fountain at the end, and you’ve really made an incredible statement,” says Carloftis.

Although fountains can take center stage in the landscape, you might also consider nestling your fountain in a secluded corner of your garden. Tucked away among the plantings, the fountain will not distract from the overall composition.

What’s your desired outcome? Dramatic or Zen?

If creating a highly dramatic effect is your desire, the classic choice is a larger two or three-tiered fountain as a focal point for your landscape. Carloftis suggests Campania’s elegant Newport Fountain, which is a beautiful tiered composition made of cast stone with a lightweight basin for better maneuverability.

If you want something Zen, look for a more soothing effect in water gently cascading over a cast stone ball. Discover the allure of dancing water from a fountain lit at night, while you entertain on the patio or deck. Look for freestanding wall fountains, which include lighting components for dramatic nighttime illumination.

Low or high maintenance

Keeping your fountain clean and free of debris to prevent algae growth and clogging is something to consider when purchasing a fountain. Smaller fountains don’t require as much maintenance as larger fountains. And remember to protect your fountain in winter with a water resistant cover to prolong its life.

Whether simple or ornate, you can create your own private oasis by introducing your own fountain of youth into your landscape or garden.

To view Campania International’s wide selection of cast stone, glazed and lightweight fountains, visit www.campaniainternational.com.

Tips For Making Your Home Office Comfortable And Functional

atlanta home inspectorWhether you start a home business or just work at home, you will probably set aside one room or area of your house to be your office. This is the place where you’ll handle general business, customer relations, shipping and delivery of products and services, payroll and many other details that pertain to your company.

Of course, this room is also in your house, so you want to make sure it looks good in case you have customers stop by, or if friends or relatives stay over.

Setting up your office so that it is functional and looks nice is important, but because you’ll be spending a lot of time in there, you should make it comfortable as well. Here are some tips on how to make your home office functional, yet fun and stylish.

* If you have young children at home, designating your office separate from the rest of your house with a closed door, or a standing partition, can help your children learn that you are “at work” and not to be disturbed unless they have an emergency. If you plan to use your office space for family business as well after work hours are over, consider making a sign indicating you are busy working to hang on the door or partition.

* Your desk probably will be where you spend the majority of time in your home office, which means you need it to match your style perfectly. Your office chair needs to be comfortable, but you also want it to match the decor as well. You can choose a HON Volt or HON Ignition chair, picking from over 30 different fabrics and colors, allowing you to match your decorating scheme and comfort levels. Visit www.officedepot.com/customdesign to see how a HON chair can enhance your home office space.

* Decorate your office in colors and materials that will help keep you operating efficiently, but also allow you to enjoy the time you spend working. For example, yellow is considered to be a stimulating color, orange encourages creativity and green provides a calming influence. Depending on the energy level you would like to have in your office, consider using file folders, binders, pictures and wall paint to bring colors into your office that would enhance your professional emotions and behaviors.

* Keeping your home office picked up is key, especially if you pace while talking on the phone or while brainstorming a business idea. Make sure all your electronic cords are bundled and tucked away under your desk so you aren’t tripping over them while chatting with a client on the phone.

* Get organized with a cubby hole or filing drawer system, which will help keep the paperwork off your home office desk area and also help you find filed information quickly and easily if you were to have a customer catch you by surprise on the phone. These items are available at office supplies store such as Office Depot.

As you get your company up and running in your home office, don’t forget to add little personal touches to make it feel even more comfortable. After all, you might be spending a lot of time in your office, so there’s nothing wrong with having inspirational photos or a desk plant or two to provide you with the pleasant atmosphere you need to get your work done.

New Garden Superstars Will Spruce Up Spring

home inspector atlantaFrom cool miniature fountains to going native in the garden, spring 2011 promises great plants and products that will help you spruce up your home with pizzazz and ease.

“People are clamoring for eco-friendly plants and products that are attractive and perform well,” says Susan McCoy, garden writer and trend spotter. McCoy predicts these garden superstars will chase away the winter blahs and get gardeners raring to go outside:

Keep the dog – lose the spots

Got pets? McCoy does and has discovered new SpotGone!, an Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI)-listed organic product that turns those yellow, burned-looking patches where her dog does his “business” into lush, green grass again. The all-natural and easy-to-sprinkle pellets take out the excess salt and nitrogen from the soil, allowing grass to grow back and stay “naturally” green and healthy. It’s free from chemicals so it’s safe to use around kids and pets. It complements any lawn care system and has no foreign grass seed, so your lawn grows back uniformly and not “patchy.” Just shake what you need on pet urine spots, high-traffic areas or lawn damage from de-icers. Look for SpotGone! at www.natraturf.com.

Roll out the welcome

Looking for an instant, affordable facelift for your home? You can spruce up any doorway with the wide array of eco-friendly, all-natural coir doormats from Imports Unlimited. McCoy’s impressed with the new spring Garden Collection that features “Dahlias” in bright, bold colors and stunning “Bamboo,” as well as fun and fanciful “Hippie Bird.” All 200 selections are by prominent artists and are either 100 percent hand-woven coco-fiber, decorated in richly colored, fade-resistant dyes or all-weather recycled rubber. Choose from formal, classic, contemporary or whimsical to greet guests with a work of art right at your doorstep.

Go native

Want to see more birds, bees and butterflies in your garden? Attracting wildlife while you beautify your landscape has never been easier. American Beauties Native Plants has a wide array of native shrubs, trees, ornamental grasses and perennials that are perfect for your region. Hand-picked for their beauty, these native charmers will attract and provide shelter and food for wildlife, with minimal need for fertilizer, water and pest control. Plus, you’ll be making a contribution to The National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat program.

Splish, splash

Now you can bring the soothing sight and sounds of fountains onto your terrace or indoors with the new mini fountain collection from Campania International. Their Arabesque fountain, at only 18 inches tall, offers double the pleasure with a basin that makes a great planter and an etched design that will complement any space. Whether you want to decorate your terrace or liven up a room or windowsill in your home or office, adding a mini fountain is an affordable luxury.

Spring – and gardening season – will arrive before you know it. Be prepared to spring into action when warm weather arrives by keeping up-to-date on the latest products and trends that can help spruce up your outdoors.

An Easy Way To Save 15 Percent On Utility Bills

home inspector atlantaSaving money around the house continues to be a major pursuit for homeowners nationwide. And with a focus on going green, savvy homeowners are looking for ways to cut energy use to reduce utility bills and their home’s carbon footprint.

There are dozens of ways to curb energy use around the home. Sealing drafts by applying caulk and weather-stripping around windows and doors, and applying foam sealer around drafty outlets and piping leading outside can save up to 5 percent on heating costs alone. Most important, installing the proper amount of attic insulation with the proper airflow is generally the best way to save on home energy use.

If you are among the millions of Americans who enjoy do-it-yourself home improvement projects, installing a radiant barrier in the attic space above your home is one of the most effective energy-saving projects to consider.

While radiant barriers are not a new concept, new products on the market are making it easier for homeowners to install them and realize reductions in their energy bills each month. Overall, a radiant barrier can save an average homeowner up to 15 percent on utility bills.

The benefits of installing a radiant barrier have long been known by professionals in the construction, roofing, heating and cooling and energy industries, says Rick Jordan of EcoRite Products, a major radiant barrier manufacturer. Only recently have products been manufactured specifically for the DIY installer market.

Jordan explains that a radiant barrier is a product that is installed in the attic – between the rafters on the underside of a roof – to reduce the radiant heat gain that permeates a home when the sun is beating down on it. Radiant barrier, a particularly effective product for summer months, also reduces heat loss from a roof during the winter, reducing the workload on your furnace and lowering your heating bill.

Early, less-effective versions of radiant barriers included spray-on metallic paint, reflective chips or products known simply as “attic foil.” Installation was cumbersome, often requiring special tools, adhesives or multiple installers, and the low flash point on the older type of foil created added dangers in the event of a house fire.

It’s important to choose a radiant barrier that is Energy Star-approved and made of metalized film, not perforated aluminum foil. Today’s radiant barriers are far more sophisticated, yet some are so simple to install that no tools are required.

Enerflex Radiant Barrier is an example of new radiant barrier technology. The product is available nationwide through a network of lumber and building materials dealers, as well as through major retailers. The product is Energy Star-approved and was named one of the “Best New Products of 2010” by Professional Remodeler, a leading trade magazine.

Enerflex Radiant Barrier comes in rolls or panels, pre-cut for 16-inch and 24-inch widths for installation ease. The radiant barrier panels literally flex or “snap” into place between the rafters, with no tools needed. This makes it possible for installation to be a simple, one-person, do-it-yourself job that can be completed in a matter of hours.

“Studies on installed radiant barrier products show that attic temperatures are typically reduced by a full 30 percent during the summer months, which can translate to 30 degrees on a hot summer day,” says B.J. Damstra of Universal Forest Products, one of the nation’s largest building products manufacturers.

“In really hot climates, homeowners are finding additional uses for radiant barriers. In Texas and Arizona, for example, homeowners keep garages cool by installing the product on the inside of garage doors and walls. Outbuildings on farms or ranches, or outdoor workshops can also be kept cooler in the summer when the product is installed between rafters under the roof,” Damstra says.

Jordan of EcoRite Products says adding a radiant barrier in the cooler months makes installation safe and more comfortable for the installer.

Radiant barriers are a safe, proven tool for reducing energy bills and reducing the strain on a home’s HVAC system. And when you can spend a few hours over a weekend and complete a project that saves money month after month, it’s hard to ignore the benefits.

Visit www.enerflexfoil.com for more information on radiant barriers or to find a retailer in your area.

Get Smart About Your Living Environment: Five Trends That Will Make Your Home Truly Your Own!

atlanta home inspectorIf you’re looking to purchase or remodel a home, you likely are building a long list of “must-haves,” “must-dos” and “must-includes” for your new space. There’s no question the housing market is in a different place than it was as recently as five years ago. Of course, a tough economy has been the prevailing factor, but other things – an aging population and a tough job market – are influencing how people are living today and possibly into the future. If you’re like most home seekers and remodelers, you may find that your requirements fall in line with these five growing trends:

Bigger isn’t always better: As interest grows in living more efficiently, people are building smaller homes. In fact, new homes are now 7 percent smaller than they were the previous year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Just my style: Homeowners are aiming to make their home fit their personal visions of the best investment on the dollar, and 20 percent of new homes are currently custom-built, according to the American Institute of Architects. This trend to customize is in part made possible by the parallel trend to build a smaller home. Smaller spaces free up dollars to put toward the products that fill it. Color, decor and products that help make a home feel one-of-a-kind versus one-of-many are becoming king.

Multigenerational: Homeowners also are seeking spaces that accommodate residents of all ages. One-third of baby boomers report they have adult children still living at home or likely moving back home at some point, and 8 percent of Americans report their parents already live with them or will in the future, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. With more people living under one roof – some possibly in diminishing health – you may be among the homeowners seeking products that will help ensure a healthier, cleaner environment. This may range from a programmable thermostat to help you bring comfortable temps to all ages, to an air filter to help keep germs and airborne particles at bay.

In for the long haul: As life expectancy increases, Americans are building homes that will allow them to “age in place.” Smart technology and system installations that will address future sight, hearing and dexterity-related limitations are becoming increasingly popular as a result.

Energy-efficient: As homeowner concerns about energy costs continue to mount, so too does their attention to home design and products that will help lower their energy bills and decrease their carbon footprint. As a result, homeowners are showing increased attention to factors such as insulation and window quality.

In the end, there are many products and services on the market to help meet these homeowner needs, but there’s one you may have not considered, tucked away in your basement. It’s your home heating, ventilation and cooling (HVAC) system, and it actually plays a role in meeting each of these growing homeowner trends.

* If it’s a smaller home you seek, HVAC manufacturers such as Trane continue to rollout product solutions that offer you the size you need to fit your space.

* Heating and cooling alone accounts for half of the energy used in a home, according the Alliance to Save Energy, so it’s important to install a HVAC system that will deliver optimal performance. A product such as the Trane XC95m furnace is among the most energy efficient on the market, and is equipped with technology that allows it to communicate with all other components of a heating and cooling system.

* If smart technology and a customized home experience are what you need, consider remote home energy management systems. With a solution like Schlage LINK, a remote access solution that provides home control from a cell phone or any computer with Internet access, you can adjust your home’s thermostat, even when you are not there.

* Your heating and cooling system can also help keep your home a clean and healthy environment for all ages. Many manufacturers offer whole-house air filtration systems, and some of these systems can filter up to 99.98 percent of particles and allergens from your home’s air.

If any of these home trends apply to the “must have” list for your new or remodeled home, your heating and cooling system might be a good place to begin in your planning. Visit www.trane.com to get started. With the right HVAC system, you’ll be on your way to creating your picture-perfect home environment, however small, unique, diverse, long-lasting or energy-efficient you need it to be.

Keep Your ‘Green’ Home Improvements Running At Peak Efficiency

atlanta home inspectorIf you’re like many Americans, you have recently made home improvements to lessen your impact on the environment. While you’ve already taken big strides toward saving energy – and money – you can conserve even more by making sure your new systems are running at peak efficiency.

Whether you recently outfitted your home with solar panels or invested in a new heating system or water heater, here are some tips to make sure you are saving energy at the highest capacity.

Solar panels

Solar panels capture free energy from the sun, but they can lose a lot of their capacity if they aren’t cleaned regularly.  Depending upon where you live and other variable conditions, you may need to clean panels as often as once a month. A dirty panel can reduce the efficiency of an entire array by up to 40 percent. Since panels can sometimes be hard to reach, you may want to consider investing in a cleaning system like Mr. LongArm’s Pro Curve Solar Cleaning Kit, which allows you to reach and clean difficult-to-access panels.

The system features two unique cleaning tools, a washer/squeegee that attaches to a curved extension pole as well as an extendable flow thru pole and cleaning brush that can be attached to a garden hose. To view videos on how to clean solar panels, visit www.mrlongarm.com.

Heating systems

A new energy-efficient heating system only gets you part of the way to optimal efficiency. Before the heating season starts each year, you should make sure your HVAC filters and vents are cleaned, as you will see an immediate loss in efficiency if there is any blockage.

Another aspect of heating efficiency has nothing to do with your heating system. Making sure your home is properly sealed and insulated can save you up to 20 percent on energy costs, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Star program.

Water heaters

No matter how large your home or your family, you can easily make your water heater more efficient by turning down the temperature on the unit to 120 degrees F. The lower temperature means the heater doesn’t work as hard, and your water will still be hot enough to take a bath or wash dishes.

You may also want to consider a tankless water heater, which only heats the water when it’s demanded. These systems also take up less space in your utility room by running the cold water through heated coils before it goes through the pipes to your sink or shower.

If you’ve already taken steps to become energy-efficient, you understand the benefits. By making your current systems even more effective and economical, you can see even greater rewards for going green.

Attaining The Perfect Patio In 48 Hours!

home inspector atlantaSpring is a time of renewal with flowers and trees blooming, grass greening and warmer temperatures bringing us back to the outdoors. But before you can begin to truly enjoy the fresh air – there are many updates needed to help your patio areas recover from the harsh effects of old man winter.

Luckily, with a few spring spruce-up projects, you can achieve a patio revival in only a weekend that’s simple, yet looks sensational.

Wash away winter
When we think spring – we think cleaning. No matter what type of patio you may have, pressure washing is a simple way to make it shine. It offers instant gratification as layers of dirt, dust and grime are quickly blasted away. Don’t have a pressure washer? No need to run out and buy one; most rental companies or home improvement centers offer reasonably priced daily rentals. Or it’s an opportunity to visit the neighbors you haven’t seen during the cold months to borrow theirs.

Bring new life to old furniture
Once your patio area is clean, it’s time to bring out the seating. But have your table and chairs seen better days? The outdoor elements can wreak havoc on patio furniture. Fortunately, you can easily turn something ready for the trash into a new treasure by updating it with a coat of spray paint.

To start, lightly sand and clean the entire surface. Next, spray the entire piece of furniture with a new, updated paint color. For metal, wood or wicker surfaces, try Krylon’s Outdoor Spaces spray, or for plastic surfaces, try Krylon’s Fusion for Plastic spray paint. Both products are available in a wide selection of popular colors and finishes and offer superior protection to keep your patio furniture looking beautiful for years to come.

Petals and pots with pizzazz
Finally, it’s time to liven up your patio area with beautiful and aromatic flowers. But just as important as choosing the pretty petals, is planting them in the perfect pot. Terra cotta pots are ideal since they come in a variety of sizes and are inexpensive. For added pizzazz, you can update these planters with a splash of color. You can choose one color for all of your pots or mix it up. This is a great project that allows you to experiment with all of the colors that you love but were hesitant to commit to inside your home. If you change your mind, all you need is a new can of spray paint.

To start, turn each pot upside down on newspaper and spray the pot with your favorite shade of Krylon Outdoor Spaces spray paint. Once dry, you may choose to spray your vibrant pot with a clear, pearlescent or glitter spray to achieve the dazzling finish you desire.

With just these few simple projects, your patio will be festive and fashionable in just a weekend’s worth of work. For more information on other products or products from Krylon, visit www.projectsinacan.com.

Five Reasons Why Your Credit Is An Important Do-It-Yourself Tool

atlanta home inspectorHandy tool belt, equipped with all the essentials? Check. A vision of what the end result will look like? Check. A sense of adventure and determination? Check. Sounds like you’re ready to tackle your do-it-yourself project. Or are you? There’s one more tool you need to have a handle on before you begin – your credit.

Whether your DIY project is constructing a kit car, building a shed or replacing your kitchen counters, you should check your credit score  before you get started, since it’s likely you’ll use credit or even a credit card to pay for your project materials and supplies. Every time you use credit, it can affect your credit score – which in turn influences your ability to get more credit.

Consider these five reasons why your credit is the first tool you’ll need to get your DIY project started:

1. When financing a home improvement project, credit makes sense for several reasons. First, because you’re using the credit to pay for something that will, in theory, increase your home’s value and your enjoyment of it; it’s an investment with foreseeable returns. Second, the cost of home improvement materials may be more than you are willing or able to pay out at one time. Credit allows you to manage the cost over a period of time that’s comfortable for you.

2. If you’ll be buying a lot of high-cost materials, the store you purchase from might offer you a store card with a seemingly enticing discount or reward for opening the account. If you know your credit score before you buy, you’ll be better able to assess if the store card’s interest rate and incentive is really competitive with the credit terms you already have on existing cards or could get from a financial institution.

3. A good credit score can help you qualify for better interest rates and lower monthly payments on loans. But your credit score can change and if you don’t check your credit report or monitor your credit, you might not know about changes right away. Before you commit to what kind of credit you’ll use for your DIY project, check your credit score. Websites like freecreditscore.com allow you to access your credit score when you enroll in credit monitoring. Monitoring your credit allows you to see how changes in your credit report can affect your score. You’ll also receive credit score alerts whenever your score changes.

4. Your credit could influence the scope of your project. When you check your score and find it higher than you expected, you may discover you can afford to expand the size of your project. Or, if you find some unpleasant surprises, you may decide to scale back on your project – and refocus your efforts on improving your credit.

5. Hopefully, this will not be your last DIY project. But how you use credit to finance your current project could influence your ability to fund future projects. Before you commit, look into a credit score estimator, which is available when you enroll in credit monitoring through freecreditscore.com. The estimator helps you understand how major financial decisions, like applying for loans or maxing out credit cards, may impact your credit score.

Do-it-yourself projects can enhance your home’s value and your enjoyment of it. By understanding one of your most important DIY tools – your credit – you’ll be better equipped to ensure your project delivers value, and not just cost, for years to come.

Delaying Home Projects Could Cost More In The Long Run

Been to the grocatlanta home inspectorery store lately? Filled up your vehicle with gas in the last week? It’s not your imagination – many of the items you use most often are getting more expensive.

And near the top of the list of price increases are the building materials that go into remodeling projects and new home construction. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the new home that cost $85,000 to build in 2003 would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $113,000 to build now, due to residential construction costs jumping 33 percent since 2003.

“We’ve certainly seen it in our industry,” says Kent Blanchard, TAMKO Building Products vice president of roofing manufacturing.  “These increased costs trickle down to the consumer as all of the raw material increases make the end-product more costly to manufacture. I’m sure to the consumer it’s seemed more like a flood lately.”

Prices for nearly all the major building supplies have risen in the last several years, from concrete and asphalt to drywall and insulation. Increasing demand from developing nations like China and Brazil makes it unlikely any price relief will come any time soon.

This is leading to what some analysts are referring to as a projected “sustained rise” in construction project costs and will impact both new construction and remodeling markets in 2011.

Delay and pay … more

It’s a catch-22 for homeowners who may be hesitant to invest in a building project in the middle of a difficult economy, but who also know they will almost certainly pay more for the same project if they wait.

Industry experts recommend consumers not wait to tackle home improvement projects but start first with the projects that provide the most return on investment or address a pressing need.

Back to the basics

When it comes to essentials, there’s nothing more crucial to a home or its inhabitants than a roof over their heads. A new roof can be a major selling point and can help protect the rest of your home improvement investments.

Despite the recent rise in asphalt prices, asphalt shingles continue to be the most popular and cost-efficient roofing choice for the majority of residential buildings. The Heritage Shingle series is one of the most popular asphalt shingles across the U.S. for its durability, traditional wood shake appearance and recently extended limited warranty.

“They look good and perform well,” Blanchard says of asphalt shingles.  “You can’t beat the combination of performance, appearance and price of a good asphalt shingle. They are the backbone of American roofing.”

Another option that may require greater upfront costs, but can reduce costs in the long-term are composite shingles. Composite shingles are made from a special blend of materials ranging from stone to plastic to create long-lasting, durable roofing options. Lamarite shingles by TAMKO can resemble stone slate or wood shake shingles and come in colors rated by Energy-Star and the Cool Roof Rating Council for their ability to lower a building’s cooling costs. Lamarite shingles also come with a 50-year limited warranty.

So whether planning to fix your leaky roof, add a deck for enjoyment or increase your living space, remember that $85,000 house in 2003 costs $113,000 today. Regardless of the home improvement projects you are considering, it’s important to remember that the longer you delay, the more you’re likely to pay.

Tips For Better Remodeling Or Landscaping Projects

home inspector atlantaFor many homeowners, the return of warm weather signals that time of year to launch the long-awaited home remodeling or backyard patio project.

With the typical major kitchen remodel topping $58,000 and the cost of a new roof topping $21,000, according to the National Association of Realtors 2009 Cost vs. Value Report, taking on even a minor remodel calls for careful attention to detail.

It’s even more important if you’re not a do-it-yourselfer and want to hire a contractor to perform some or all of the work, says FindLaw.com, the world’s leading online legal resource. Doing your homework upfront and being crystal clear in your dealings with a home remodeling or landscaping contractor will reduce miscommunication, frustration and expensive errors.

If you’re ready to take the plunge, here are some time-tested tips from FindLaw.com for a better remodeling or landscaping project:

1. Ask yourself: Does it make sense? Before you move too quickly, it’s critical to determine if it makes sense to remodel. The first place to look is your neighborhood. Are other neighbors improving their homes and enhancing the exteriors of their homes, as well as their yards? Is your city or town properly maintaining streets and public areas? Are you committed to staying in your home at least five years? Remodeling and landscaping can be expensive and, in many cases, you will not fully recoup your investment. While it’s important to do it for yourself, be careful not to over invest either.

2. Do your homework. Before you call a contractor, do your homework to get a good idea of what you want from your remodeling or landscaping project. Visit showrooms, talk to friends and neighbors who have recently remodeled, read home and landscaping magazines, and visit open houses and showcase homes to see what’s hot in home remodeling and landscaping projects. Start a notebook to collect your ideas, product information and product samples.

3. Build a budget. As you do your homework, start piecing together a budget of what various products and materials may cost. Keep in mind, especially when remodeling an older home, there may be unexpected surprises (such as plumbing or electrical) that could drive up the costs of your remodeling project. To be on the safe side, always add 20 percent to the generally recommended costs of a remodeling project.

4. Listen to word-of-mouth. If you hire a contractor, make sure that any contractor that you consider is licensed, bonded and insured. Word-of-mouth is the most reliable method to finding a contractor. Ask your friends, neighbors or family members for the names of contractors or landscapers with whom they’ve worked.

5. Get multiple bids. Always get at least three proposals when selecting a contractor to handle your remodeling or landscaping project. Always meet the contractor in person and never agree to hire a contractor after your first meeting. Obtain all estimates in writing and carefully compare the details that each contractor has spelled out in his or her proposal.

6. Check your permits. Be wary of the contractor who says you don’t need to pull a permit from city hall for your remodeling or landscaping project. A permit typically represents the minimum construction standard set by a local community. In other words, a permit actually protects you as the homeowner from shoddy construction or landscaping practices. If you live in a historic neighborhood, there may be more restrictive guidelines that you must follow that have been set by a neighborhood council.

7. Get references. Before you say “yes” to a contractor’s proposal, get at least three to five references from a contractor. Call the contractor’s references and ask about the experience of working with him or her – did the contractor complete the project on time and on budget? Was the contractor responsive to making changes throughout the project and the completion of the punch list (all of the final details to wrap up a project)? Contact your local Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been filed about the contractor. And, contact building suppliers and subcontractors (electricians, plumbers, etc.) to see if your contractor pays his or her bills on time.

8. Get it in writing. Never, ever agree to hire a contractor, even if it’s your brother-in-law, on a handshake. Always insist on a contract, says FindLaw.com. Be precise about exactly what services will be performed and by when. Specify exactly what products and materials will be used. Spell out when payments will be made to the contractor and clarify what recourse you have if the work is not completed to your satisfaction. If need be, contact an attorney specializing in contracts to review the document before signing.

9. Do a gut check. You need to feel good about having someone come into your home every day for weeks or possibly several months. Working with a contractor should be fun, but more importantly, you need a contractor who listens and responds to you. Check your gut reaction. If in any way you feel uncomfortable with a contractor, don’t sign the contract. And if you have to, move quickly to cancel it. Many states allow a consumer to cancel a contract within three business days after signing it.

10. Be completely satisfied. Never pay for the entire remodeling project or landscaping project up front, before construction begins. In most cases, you’ll put down 25 percent of the total project amount to get the work started. After that, you’ll pay portions at certain milestones up until the completion of the project. Don’t make the final payment until you are completely satisfied with the work. It’s one of your last defenses to ensuring that work is completed to your satisfaction.