Q: When I watch those TV reality shows about room makeovers, I wonder if there is anything "real" about them. Can you really do a complete makeover in two days with $2,000? –Gayle K.

A: Yes and no — and therein lies the problem of the contradictions and false expectations of some of these phenomenally popular reality home-improvement shows.

On the positive side, these shows can provide viewers with a tremendous wealth of information and ideas for redoing rooms that they might not have the experience or imagination to come up with on their own. If you’re looking to give a complete new look to a bedroom through the addition of some interesting new paint colors, new window coverings, some moldings, the revamping of some existing furniture and maybe building a simple bookshelf, that is indeed possible to do in two days with $2,000 — but not by the average homeowner.

The kind of accelerated pace depicted on these shows requires that absolutely everything has been thoroughly planned in advance and meticulously organized, and that all of the materials have been prepurchased and are waiting on-site. Remember also that the $2,000 budget is for materials only — often purchased at heavy discounts — and that the very expensive fees, salaries and services of the on-site decorators, the highly skilled carpenters, the supervisors and coordinators, the delivery services, the cranes, the rental equipment, the professional shoppers, and all the rest of the vast network of other peripheral people and companies are not coming out of that money.

Reality home-improvement shows are great, but viewers really need to realize that this is not reality. For example, the average homeowner certainly will not have a building inspector standing by to blitz through (or waive) inspections on a moment’s notice, and they won’t have access to all of the hundreds of off-camera personnel and all of the freebies that these shows have to rely on.

One of the problems today is that we have become a society of instant gratification, and these shows play into that. They raise false expectations of what is possible for contractors and especially do-it-yourselfers to accomplish, and while I think the average homeowner understands that they won’t be able to have a crew of 75 people re-roof their house in an hour or get the local fire department to fill their swimming pool, they probably don’t always understand that many of the other instantaneous makeovers they see materialize on the screen are virtually impossible in real life as well.

I would strongly advise homeowners to enjoy these shows for their entertainment value, and for the lessons they provide on how colors interact, or how a simple bookcase or the rearrangement of some furniture can make a huge difference in a room’s flow. But don’t take these shows as a glimpse of reality, and don’t expect that you or your contractor can perform the same feats of magic without a very extensive — and very expensive — infrastructure to back you up.

Q: I would like to have insulation blown into my exterior walls. What can you tell me about compaction and settling, and about the lack of a vapor barrier? –Gilbert M.

A: Most of the information and studies I have seen on this subject has shown a good success rate for retrofitted wall insulation, providing the installation is done properly. The most common material used for this process is cellulose, since it is dense enough to completely fill the cavities without sagging, but it does not tend to get hung up on nails and other obstructions inside the wall the way that blown fiber materials such as fiberglass and mineral wool might do.

As to the vapor barrier, in the average home the application of a semi-gloss paint or a specialized vapor-barrier paint or primer to the inside of the exterior walls is typically enough protection. Talk with an experienced paint store for recommendations on paints with low vapor permeability — in other words, ones that form a film that will not allow moisture to pass through it easily.

All that being said, there are definitely some potential problems associated with blowing insulation into sealed wall cavities, including possible moisture problems and even damage to electrical wiring. Whenever possible, wall insulation should be done while the wall cavities are open. If that’s impossible, be sure to talk with a licensed and bonded insulation contractor with specific experience in retrofitting wall insulation, check on their references and warranties, and contact the manufacturer of whatever insulation product they are using to get additional technical information, precautions and other information specifically related to retrofitting in walls.

Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at paul2887@ykwc.net.


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