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Expanding Your Home – Decks, Sunrooms, & Patios

Pearl Kreamer of London, Kentucky, had been looking
at newspaper ads from Champion Windows & Patio Rooms for some time, so she
suggested to her husband, Jim, that they visit Champion’s London showroom. After
viewing the company’s various designs, the couple returned home to discuss it,
but Pearl says her mind was "pretty well made up" when she saw the A-frame
design sunroom. "It was exactly what we wanted," she says. "It
was the only thing that was going to make the end of the house. My only question
was when they could start."

The answer: in two weeks. And two weeks later, a Champion
representative was at their home to determine if the design they wanted would
work with the house. Seven days after that, the room was complete. The Kreamers
have been thrilled.

"Before the addition, the back of the house was
flat, with one little window in the bathroom," Pearl says. "Now the
house has seven or eight gables. It is all windows across the back. And you just
have to see the view to believe it."

The room has become a year-round magnet for both husband
and wife.

"Our house sits on a hill with lots and lots of
trees," she says. "The sunroom has a pretty view and is a great place
to sit when it is snowing. I take my quilting frame out there and quilt for hours.
We watch television there and just sit and watch the people pass. It is near the
kitchen and dining room, so we just live out there. It is a really good place
to relax."

The room got so much use that two years later, the
couple decided to add another sunroom. This one has become the family room. Their
Maltese dog, Will, sleeps there at night. During the day, the room is the main
entrance to the house, upstaging the front entrance, now rarely used. Like the
first addition, this one has a fireplace and is perfect for entertaining, a frequent
activity for the retired couple.

"The rooms have just made our house," she
says. "We get a lot of comments from a lot of people about how good they
look."

How will it be used?

The Kreamers’ problem-free remodeling experience
was due to many factors, beginning with the fact that the couple knew exactly
what they wanted and how the rooms would be used. Another thing the Kreamers
did right was ensure that the addition enhanced their home rather than just
add square footage.

"The biggest mistake people make is not making
sure an addition goes with the flow of the house," says Kenneth Keltner,
owner of Keltner Construction in Alvaton for 28 years. "Try to be sure
it actually adds to the looks and appeal of the house as well as being usable.
Some additions hurt the look of homes. They don’t match or they make the house
unbalanced."

How hard will it be to maintain?

Another important question is what it will take
to keep the original look. Keltner says he sees a move toward lower-maintenance
materials, particularly in decks, patios, and porches.

"People want as low a maintenance as possible,"
he says. "They are moving toward low-maintenance materials such as plastics
and wood imitators. These have a long warranty and are very weather-resistant."

One of the newest products on the market is a wood
polymer lumber-a combination of plastic and wood that is sold under several
brand names, including Trex. Like other wood polymers, Trex comes in several
colors and with a lifetime warranty.

It was just the kind of material homebuilder Dino
Pinerola wanted for the deck on his own home in Bowling Green. Because the deck
overlooks a wooded area, Pinerola and his wife, Joyce, also wanted a look that
would blend well with the setting.

"Simulated woods are definitely more popular
than in the past," Pinerola says, "particularly in high-end homes.
Some of the bigger homes now even have completely vinyl decks."

Pinerola laid the Trex for his deck diagonally to
give it a distinctive look. He also divided the deck into two distinct areas-a
smaller part for a hot tub and a larger space just off the flagstone patio for
eating and entertaining. Rather than remove a tree, he opted to cut a hole in
the deck for it and put a circular bench around the trunk. The tree provides
shade in the summer and another distinguishing element year-round.

Will it be distinctive?

Creating an outdoor space that is personal -one
that reflects the tastes and preferences of the homeowners-requires some planning
but is well worth the effort.

When Adam Scales, owner of Scales Construction, added
a front and back porch to his 1910-era house in Russellville, he wanted the
porches to reflect his love for history and historic architecture.

A few years back, Scales had purchased some unusual
columns. He stored them for future use, not knowing that he would use them on
his own back porch. The thick columns were perfect when he decided to incorporate
a covered porch with an existing patio. He also returned the front porch to
its original style, again adding columns that were true to both the home’s traditional
style and his personal tastes.

Scales says he is seeing a move back to porches after
years of decks reigning supreme.

"I am seeing a move more toward porches, for
the same reason as we built our porch on the back," he says. "People
want a combination of porch and patio, not just one or the other. On a rainy
day or when the sun is really hot, they can sit under the porch. When they want
to entertain they have the space from the patio. Especially during the warmer
months, a porch just gives a home a homey feel."

Will it be a quality product?

Whether deck, porch, patio, sunroom, or some
combination, Scales says the most important requirement most of his customers
have is quality.

"A lot of people will say, ‘I don’t care how
long it takes and I am willing to spend a certain amount of money, but I want
it to be done right and to last,’" Scales says.

Roger Travis with Travis Custom Carpentry in Shelbyville
believes that quality begins with quality materials. He says a common mistake
people make is to try to cut costs on materials, a move he says costs them more
in the long run.

"On some decks you could get by with 2 x 8 boards
instead of 2 X 10 boards. But for a few more dollars, the deck will be much
more solid and last longer. The customer should be concerned with how it is
going to be built. How will it be supported? How will it be braced? What size
floor joints are being used? A lot of materials can be skipped that won’t be
obvious by just looking, but doing it that way doesn’t give you a quality product.
Down the road, you always spend more than if you had done it right the first
time."

How much will it cost?

Quality and cost go hand in hand for most products.
None of the contractors we spoke with would quote a per-foot cost because it
varies so greatly, depending on what the customer wants and the area where it
is being added. However, there are some basic rules of thumb.

Treated lumber-most commonly Southern yellow pine-is
the least expensive of the basic materials. Other popular woods-Western red
cedar, redwood, and imported hardwoods-are a step up. Mahogany is also sometimes
used, but not all mahogany has the resistance to decay needed for outdoor use.

There are also man-made lumbers. These include composites
(plastic and wood), 100 percent polypropylene, PVC/vinyl, and aluminum (the
most costly of all decking products). Be aware that plastic and metal materials
have an expansion and contraction factor that should be addressed when constructing
a deck.

Whatever your budget, your goals, and personal tastes,
Pearl Kreamer has one piece of advice: "Go for it," she says. "You
won’t be sorry."

Sunrooms for All Four Seasons

Most people just add on a room when they want
extra space. Joe Ritchie bought the company.

Five years ago, Ritchie needed surgery on both his
knees. After two knee replacements, Ritchie required exercise and decided to
build an enclosed swimming pool in his back yard. In the midst of the addition,
Ritchie spotted a Wendy’s restaurant being torn down and struck a deal with
the owner for the glass enclosure. The enclosure was perfect for his addition,
and soon Ritchie was swimming his way back to health. Ritchie still faced one
problem: he would no longer be able to do the physically demanding work of remodeling
homes that he had done for 25 years.

While recuperating and trying to figure out his future,
a close friend came to visit. Ritchie proudly showed off his new enclosed swimming
pool. "This is one of my rooms!" his friend, Jim, exclaimed. It turned
out that Jim owned a Four Seasons Sunrooms franchise in Ohio. That very weekend
Ritchie and his wife were on their way to see the showroom.

Impressed with the quality of the company’s rooms,
Ritchie began the process of buying a franchise. Last year, his franchise was
number one in the Midwest region.

"We carry 18 different sunrooms," says
Ritchie. "Our rooms are true four-season rooms. They can be used 320 days
a year. That sets us apart from most other companies. Most Florida rooms are
only three seasons at best. They also don’t add value to the home because without
heat and air ducts, they don’t add to the square footage of the home."

Another difference comes in the type of glass used,
according to Ritchie, who says his specially coated glass eliminates 97 percent
of ultraviolet rays, which cause rooms to overheat in the summer and be chilly
in the winter. It also eliminates the problems of furniture fabrics fading.

"Be sure to think about what you want to use
the room for," Ritchie advises when shopping for sunrooms, "and find
out if sunrooms are their specialty."

This Four Seasons Sunrooms is located in Louisville
and can be reached at (502) 261-1333 or (800) 443-2513. (Refer to Web site sidebar
for national Four Seasons Sunrooms information.)

Web Sites for More Info

www.hometime.com

A great primer on building a deck or patio. Also
purchase plans, videos, and books for decks, gazebos, spas, and outdoor furniture.

www.decks.com

Great information on the various materials used to
build decks as well as idea photos and information about maintenance and estimated
costs. Also, special projects such as how to build a curved deck.

www.servicemagic.com
and www.renovationexperts.com

Pre-screened contractors matched to your needs and
interested in your job.

www.decksusa.com

Much of the information on this site is available
only through the purchase of a CD-ROM, including deck designs and plans, a consumer
information kit, and a stair kit guide. There is also some free, quite useful
information, including photo galleries of interesting decks, flooring patterns,
and accessories such as benches, planters, and spa supports.

www.deckorators.com

Information about aluminum balusters, a popular,
high-end product.

www.DeckGuide.com

A free service resource to help you find building
and wood care contractors, products, and accessories for your outdoor deck,
dock, gazebo, and other wood structures. Includes a "Find a contractor"
feature that helps you find a contractor in your geographic area.

www.screen-house.com

Do-it-yourself deck enclosure kits for sale.

www.paybackestimator.com

Access national, regional, and local costs, values,
and tips for 16 projects from remodeling industry professionals. Download full
reports and find local project resources.

www.decksoft.com

Software for decks, deck plans, and building.

www.mysunroom.com

Home page for Four Seasons Sunrooms. The site includes
measuring tools and information on the variety of rooms available from the company.
Also, more about their glass.

www.championwindow.com

Review the various designs available from their photo
gallery and find out more about their products. Also, a section on what to look
for in a patio room.

Questions to Ask

Bob Weiss is executive vice president of the Homebuilders
Association of Kentucky, a statewide organization of builders and remodelers.
He advises anyone adding a deck, patio, porch, or sunroom to his or her house
to ask the following questions:

Q Are you going to provide me with a contract
that says exactly what you will do? The contract should include the price, exactly
what the finished project will look like, and when the work will be started.
Otherwise, Weiss says, you open the potential for "he said/she said"
disagreements on what is expected.

Q Are you going to provide a written warranty
that tells what is covered after you finish your work? The warranty should be
in writing.

Q Do you have the proper insurance? The contractor
should have workers’ comp in case one of his or her employees gets hurt, and
liability insurance in case something happens before the job is complete, such
as problems resulting from inclement weather.

Q Do you have references I can call? Be sure
to call the references, not just ask for them. As Weiss notes, most of the time
the contractor will be working on the home in which you live. You need someone
who will do a good job and be trustworthy. You should also get bids from two
or three different contractors, according to Weiss.

Q Will you provide an estimate on when the
job will be complete? You shouldn’t expect a precise date because the weather
often causes delays that are no fault of the contractor.

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