Q. & A.: Advice for Renovating Your Home

If your contractor truly has you at the end of your rope, I understand. But even then, I have to ask: Did you do enough to qualify this person before letting him or her into your house? You should always request numerous references and tour projects before handing any contractor a job.


Credit Todd Detwiler

After watching a number of YouTube videos, my boyfriend is convinced he can use a jackhammer to rip up the pavement behind our new home all by himself. I want a garden there, but I also want him around to help with the weeding. How crazy is he?

Seriously, a jackhammer? Even with a sledgehammer, there are a host of reasons not to conceive this as a D.I.Y. project. The concrete could be mitigating bad soil quality, holding back groundwater and helping to keep the back wall of your house stable and your basement dry.

At a minimum, a structural engineer should review the viability of taking out the slab. If this is an urban yard, care must be taken not to disrupt utility pipes and lines that may pass through. And for sure, someone with hands-on experience should do it for you. Alternatively, you could consider building a raised garden, taking care not to block any existing drains, and just leaving the slab as it is. There are even kits to help you do this, so that the bulk of the work involves safely hauling in soil to grow the plants.

I’m thinking of installing skylights in my 1960s home. What are the pros and cons?

Skylights are tricky. They create viable rooms in the eaves and bring daylight to windowless interior bathrooms. They also reveal hidden views and break up the monotonous look of a large, unbroken ceiling with the bonus of brightening the middle of the room.

But be aware that skylights may leak from poor installation, poor window quality or simply not being completely closed. It is important to select good-quality skylights and have them installed by someone credible. And if you’re the kind of person who drives away from the house for the day leaving half the windows open, skylights will be only fair-weather friends.


Credit Todd Detwiler

Also, keep in mind that skylights are more likely to overheat your house and fade your belongings than windows are because of their position relative to the sun. Make sure the glazing helps reduce ultraviolet and infrared rays.

Several levels of protection are available. Tinting, which is barely noticeable against the sky, can even be done as a moderately priced retrofit with film (installed by a professional). You’ll cut the ultraviolet transmission by 75 percent compared with clear, uninsulated glass. If you’re ordering a new skylight, low-emissivity glazing will reduce the ultraviolet (fading) and infrared (heating) rays by 98 percent over clear, regular glazing. To minimize glare, which tinting will not affect, you can install remote-controlled shades.

Last, consider the placement of skylights. They need to look good from the inside and outside of your house. Riddling the street-facing slope of your roof with randomly placed ones is not a great idea.

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