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Around the house: Don't cut corners with basement remodels

May 4, 2013

Dear Ken: We have a 900-square-foot basement that we want to finish. I have no idea how to hire someone. Please help! - Sherri

You need to make sure that the companies you interview are not only qualified but also have the proper credentials. You can get names of firms with an online search - type remodeling contractors and your city name. Friends and colleagues are also a good source. You'll need a sketch of the project for both bidding and the permit process. An architectural drafting firm is a good choice for a basement.

Ask each contractor (get at least three bids) for the names of the last couple of families whose basements they finished. That way, you can talk to homeowners and get their overall reaction to the job.

Make sure that the company you choose has workers' compensation and liability insurance, plus the proper contractor's license to do the work. You might run across folks who'll give a low price but lack the proper insurance coverages. The old adage, 'You can have good or you can have cheap - but not both, ' applies.

How much will this cost? I have a friend who charges about $30 per square foot of basement area plus an extra $2,500 for the bathroom. That assumes that you pick 'average ' carpet, trim, doors and tile. This is a good deal because appraisers tell me that a finished basement will add maybe twice that in value per square foot.

Finally, a good rule of thumb for all work at your house is 'no money up front. '

Dear Ken: Tell me about furnace filters - do you like the throwaway or the washables? - Jacque

I like to get rid of my dirt. The washable and reusable filters are OK, but they tend to hold on to microscopic particles, which build up. I also avoid the cheap (less than a dollar) fiberglass type. They only capture stuff down to about 50 microns (that's millionths of a meter, roughly the diameter of human hair). On the other hand, the corrugated paper filters I like can grab mold spores, pet dander, dust mite debris and dust particles down to about 10 microns. They are available almost anywhere for about $5 to $8.

Filters are graded on their MERV (minimum efficiency reporting value) rating. The higher the number, the more effective at grabbing tinier material. The cheap fiberglass filters have about a 3 MERV while my favorite is about a 7 or 8. There are also super-efficient household filters with a MERV of about 11, but they run $20 or more. They're a good choice if you have hay fever or asthma sufferers in your family. Change your filters monthly in both the heating and cooling seasons.

Dear Ken: I have an old oak table that has a white spot that looks like the finish is gone. How can I repair it? - CJE

There are lots of choices, depending on how big the spot and how the table was finished. You could rub the area with an emery cloth and some mineral oil. That might blend the colors together. Or try dissolving the finish with alcohol (for a shellacked coating), lacquer thinner or mineral spirits. Apply a small test dab in an out-of-the-way spot.

If you need to 're-stain ' the spot, some choices to match the hue are shoe polish, crayons, a colored putty stick or tincture of iodine, which works well on mahogany. After any of these treatments, finish with some good furniture polish and buff.


Ken Moon, a homebuilder-turned-home-inspector in the Pikes Peak region, broadcasts 'Around the House, ' on KRDO, AM 1240 and FM 105.5, at 9 a.m. Saturdays. Visit to contact Ken.

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