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Home improvement projects to fit the season

  • Jim Holden, a carpenter who works for  Route 9 Design and Build working on a house on Hawley Street in Northampton. <br/><br/>

    Jim Holden, a carpenter who works for Route 9 Design and Build working on a house on Hawley Street in Northampton.

    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Ronald Keith cuts against a t-square during a construction job on Triangle Street in Amherst on January 2, 2013. The room is being transformed into a space for bridesmaids to get ready when the historical house is rented out for weddings.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Ronald Keith cuts against a t-square during a construction job on Triangle Street in Amherst on January 2, 2013. The room is being transformed into a space for bridesmaids to get ready when the historical house is rented out for weddings.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Ronald Keith moves a piece of wood during a construction job on Triangle Street in Amherst on January 2, 2013. The room is being transformed into a space for bridesmaids to get ready when the historical house is rented out for weddings.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Ronald Keith moves a piece of wood during a construction job on Triangle Street in Amherst on January 2, 2013. The room is being transformed into a space for bridesmaids to get ready when the historical house is rented out for weddings.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Alex Rytuba, left, and Steven Keith of Hadley cover windows with plastic during a construction job on Triangle Street in Amherst on January 2, 2013. The room is being transformed into a space for bridesmaids to get ready when the historical house is rented out for weddings.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Alex Rytuba, left, and Steven Keith of Hadley cover windows with plastic during a construction job on Triangle Street in Amherst on January 2, 2013. The room is being transformed into a space for bridesmaids to get ready when the historical house is rented out for weddings.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jim Holden, a carpenter who works for  Route 9 Design and Build working on a house on Hawley Street in Northampton. <br/><br/>

    Jim Holden, a carpenter who works for Route 9 Design and Build working on a house on Hawley Street in Northampton.

    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Noah Phillips, a carpenter who works for  Route 9 Design and Build working on a house on Hawley Street in Northampton. <br/><br/><br/>

    Noah Phillips, a carpenter who works for Route 9 Design and Build working on a house on Hawley Street in Northampton.


    Purchase photo reprints »

  • House off Hawley street being renovated by Route 9 design and in Northampton. <br/><br/>

    House off Hawley street being renovated by Route 9 design and in Northampton.

    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jim Holden, a carpenter who works for  Route 9 Design and Build working on a house on Hawley Street in Northampton. <br/><br/>
  • Ronald Keith cuts against a t-square during a construction job on Triangle Street in Amherst on January 2, 2013. The room is being transformed into a space for bridesmaids to get ready when the historical house is rented out for weddings.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Ronald Keith moves a piece of wood during a construction job on Triangle Street in Amherst on January 2, 2013. The room is being transformed into a space for bridesmaids to get ready when the historical house is rented out for weddings.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Alex Rytuba, left, and Steven Keith of Hadley cover windows with plastic during a construction job on Triangle Street in Amherst on January 2, 2013. The room is being transformed into a space for bridesmaids to get ready when the historical house is rented out for weddings.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Jim Holden, a carpenter who works for  Route 9 Design and Build working on a house on Hawley Street in Northampton. <br/><br/>
  • Noah Phillips, a carpenter who works for  Route 9 Design and Build working on a house on Hawley Street in Northampton. <br/><br/><br/>
  • House off Hawley street being renovated by Route 9 design and in Northampton. <br/><br/>

Sometimes there are few choices when home repairs or renovations are needed — especially in winter. The roof may become damaged, you may need to make space for a family member, or the hot water heater just gave up the ghost. For others, winter may be a time when the rest of life slows down enough to consider home projects and renovations.

“Half the people we work with are victims, the other half have plans,” said Gary Wilson, of Wilson Services Inc. in Northampton.

Wilson specializes in updating home heating systems.

“We found our niche modernizing old clunky systems, or just addressing comfort or zoning issues,” he said.

Valley home improvement tradesmen say homeowners can generally benefit from what is an annual lull for many. From just after Thanksgiving until late March/early April tends to be the slowest time of year for many in the construction and home improvement trades. While opinions vary regarding winter discounts, it is worthwhile to ask. Some tradesmen did not feel the need; others said they would offer up to a 5 percent discount. Wilson agreed there is room for some discounting during the slow months and commented that “like clockwork every year, right around tax day, everything starts to really pick up. It’s amazing,” he said with a laugh.

Charles Ryan, of Ryan Building in Chesterfield, said “there are some deals to be had. I just have to make sure I’m covering the costs of doing business during the winter lull.”

Some tradesmen, like Ryan and Lance Hodes of Haydenville Woodworking in South Deerfield, have more time to provide customized work in the colder months. Ryan, who attended the University of Massachusetts to study wood technology, has his own sawmill and can provide customized sizes and types of wood “that you usually can’t find in your typical lumber store,” he said. Ryan specializes in any type of interior work, tiling, drywall, countertops, bookshelves, etc. “It’s more pricey (to have handmade work) than if you go to Ikea, but these types of renovations raise the value of your house,” Ryan said.

Hodes, who also operates a woodshop, said he tries to line up as many interior renovation projects as possible ahead of time, but during the winter lull has more time to create cabinetry, built-ins, and fine furniture.

“It’s a good time to put in those bathroom cabinets, built-in bookcases, or even beds,” he said.

Inside or out?

External work in the winter is likely to be more expensive. It can still be done in the winter months — it’s just generally harder, takes longer, and is often a bit more expensive. Hodes said however, that as long as a foundation is set by December, any construction can reasonably take place.

“What with global warming, it seems foundations can be set later and later each year,” Hodes said.

Most agreed, however, that while external work can certainly be done in the winter, it generally isn’t your best choice. Ronald Keith, owner of Keith Construction in Hadley, said that while his company never seems to slow down, things like putting on a metal roof can be more dangerous for workers due to frost. In terms of roofing, Keith said asphalt can also be more brittle in the cold and is a bit harder to work with.

“It’s just harder on the guys who are out there,” he said.

Tom Bacis, of New England Remodeling in Easthampton, agreed and added that “workers aren’t able to work as efficiently. They are in bulky clothes and sometimes have to shovel off a roof three times in one day.”

So, while roofing can be done in the winter, it will likely cost more. Bacis added that in the colder months even some tools don’t work as well, such as those requiring compressed air. “They get ice crystals in them,” he said.

What about painting in the winter?

“There are so many eco-friendly products now, you can paint a whole room and it has no odor after three hours,” said Mike Connery, owner of Santa Fe Painting in Florence. “You can even paint a child’s room safely in the winter,” he added.

Connery said some people still believe it isn’t safe to paint in the winter due to lack of ventilation. “You can even get low- to no-VOC (volatile organic compounds) polyurethane now that is water-based,” he said. VOC’s have been linked to a number of health-related issues and have been eliminated from many home improvement products in recent years.

Connery, who says he often will offer a better deal in the winter, also said his specialty is having an exceptional eye for color.

“If you can’t pick the right color, all the programs and applications in the world aren’t going to help you,” he said.

A couple of important facts about interior painting during the winter have to do with heat and humidity. Conner said the room needs to be at least 65 degrees and to keep in mind that a freshly painted room adds a good deal of humidity to the environment initially. “Even if it feels dry, wait five to six hours for that second coat,” he said.

The type of heating in the home can also be a factor in drying time and quality of the paint job.

“Steam heat may be the best thing for the body, but it will add to your drying time. If you have forced hot air, your walls will dry quicker,’ Conner said.

Renovations and restoration

Keith, who owns a multigenerational construction business, specializes in historic restoration.

“We have worked with people who give us pictures from 1885 and we go from that,” he said.

Keith said the construction business is still trending toward renovations and has been for the past five years or so.

“Every year is a little bit different, but it has a lot to do with the economy,” he said. Keith said it’s good to plan for interior work, especially kitchens and bathrooms, while you are on vacation to reduce potential household stressors related to remodeling important and oft-used rooms. “Nobody wants to be home with that kind of mess,” he said.

Bacis said his company also works to use as many “green” products and recycle as many materials as possible. “With the right focus, we try to have the least amount of waste as possible,” Bacis said. Less waste means more savings to the homeowner.

Heating systems

Wilson said that if you have an older heating system, filters are less of an issue than with newer systems.

“People need to be educated usually about the importance of filters in newer systems. Systems from 25 or 40 years ago were built to accept a lot of dust and dirt. Newer systems are more prone to act up when there is too much dust and dirt,” he said. Wilson said one of the best investments with regard to heating systems is filters, which are generally very inexpensive. “(Dirty) filters are notorious for causing problems,” he said.

The past few years have brought an explosion of technology that has helped to both improve quality of work and cut costs, no matter the season. Keith said that even something as simple as being able to “call someone while they are away at the beach and send them photos can make a huge difference in time.”

Hodes uses an application that allows all of his workers to upload digital files of plans, specs, designs and so on.

“Everyone has it on their smartphone. We’re all always on the same page immediately,” he said.

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