Allen Lyle knows that when you begin planning a home improvement projects, the questions come fast and furiously. Where should you start first? How much do you spend? Who should you hire? What materials should you use?
It’s enough to make you give up, pour a drink and watch a Rehab Addict marathon.
Allen Lyle (above, left) — co-host to Danny Lipford (right) and Chelsea Lipford Wolf (center) on Today’s Homeowner, the Emmy-nominated, nationally syndicated TV show that reaches nearly 2 million viewers every week — helps homeowners all over the United States answer the tough home improvement questions that may otherwise keep them on the couch.
A man of all seasons
From his first job sweeping construction site floors to costarring on Today’s Homeowner television and radio programs, Allen Lyle has 36 years of experience in the construction and remodeling industry. He’s a builder, carpenter and cabinetmaker.
Allen is also well-versed in television and theater. He hosted the local NBC morning show in Mobile, Ala. for a half-decade. Allen has won awards as an actor, writer, director and songwriter, and he still finds time for his daughter, Savannah Mae.
We sat down with Allen to get his expertise on window replacement, insulation and other hot topics in home improvement. Here’s what he had to say.
Talking home improvement: An interview with Allen Lyle
How do you stay sharp on what’s new in home improvement?
Allen Lyle: I love going to the trade shows like the International Builders Show, Kitchen and Bath Industry Show and the National Hardware Show. They bring in people from across the country and allow you to keep up on construction, design, techniques and new materials all in one spot. Occasionally these trade shows will have a day that’s open to the public. Otherwise, Google is everyone’s friend. You can find so much information online. In the old days, we’d tell people to go to the magazines and cut out clippings of what you like. Today you can say: “Go online, here’s a link, check this out.”
Let’s talk home improvement projects. How do you know when it’s time to replace your windows?
Allen Lyle: First of all, look at the performance of the window. Do you have trouble opening and closing it? On a windy day, take a little stick of incense, light it and go around the perimeter of the window. If you see that smoke being blown while that window is closed, you’ve got leaks. If your windows are painted or nailed shut or they’re impossible to open, you might need replacement.
When you’ve got condensation on the outside of a window, that means your window is doing its job. If you’ve got condensation inside a window, you’ve got problems inside the house. If it’s between the panes, the seal has become corrupt. At that point, your only choice is to replace that glass or the window itself. Aesthetics — the looks — can also be a determining factor in window replacement.
How do you know if your attic is insulated enough? Is attic insulation a DIY project or one better left to the pros?
Allen Lyle: Over half the homes in the U.S. don’t have enough insulation. Go up into your attic — if you can see the top of your ceiling joists, you don’t have enough insulation. You should have a minimum of 14 inches in your attic.
Most people will tell you to leave this project to the pros. In my opinion, attic insulation is a project you can do yourself, if you’re going to put bats of insulation up in there. You can do one room at a time. Even with that first bat of insulation down, you’re adding to the energy efficiency of your home.
If you want to have insulation blown in, let the pros do that. A lot of home centers will give you use of the blow machine if you buy insulation from them, but that’s really beyond what most people want to do.
How do you keep your roof safe from tornados, hurricanes or other severe weather?
Allen Lyle: For an existing home, it’s hard to do that unless you change the type of materials on your roof. If you’re going with the standard builder’s grade, three-tab asphalt shingle, you’re already in the hole. You need to spend that extra money and go for better quality materials. Composites are great.
But it really starts in the design. If you want to build a home with that safe roof, first of all, look at the pitch of that roof. A hip roof design is going to be better than gable. I love the look of a nice steep roof, but steeper roofs have a bigger problem with strong winds. Also make sure that you’ve got hurricane straps throughout the perimeter that wrap over the top of the truss or the rafter and tie to that load-bearing wall.
Safety is important, and every homeowner has nightmares about a fire. What are steps every homeowner can take to reduce the risk of a home fire?
Allen Lyle: Your number one blockade is smoke detectors, obviously. Twice a year, check your batteries. If your smoke detectors are older than 10 years, replace them. Keep a fire extinguisher inside and outside your home. Keep your grill is away from trees, shrubs or anything flammable. Don’t leave anything like candles unattended.
People don’t think about is dryer lint, which is a flammable material. Clean out the vent, as well as the lint inside the dryer. Then look at fire-resistant materials, including insulation, drywall and roofing. For electrical, plugs in your home should be AFCI, or arc fault circuit interrupter. AFCI plugs are designed to detect arcing, which causes fires. That protects your home better than anything.
What improvements should you make before selling a home and what should you save for the next homeowner?
Allen Lyle: If you’re selling a home you only get one chance at a first impression. Address anything affecting curb appeal: Improve your landscaping, put down fresh sod, change out bushes and flowers, and add color where you can. Just painting the front door can make such a difference. Look at your hardware and the outdoor lights.
On the interior, the number one thing you can do is paint. You may think those bold colors you have inside make a statement, but a potential buyer may get sick to their stomach looking at them. One other thing that turns a lot of people off is the old popcorn ceilings. Look at removing that popcorn and smoothing out the ceilings.
On the other hand, if you spend $20,000 or $25,000 on a kitchen remodel, you’re probably not going to get that money back. But check with some of the realtors in your area if they say: “Other sellers are getting $40,000 or $50,000 more for that remodel,” then spending $20,000 to upgrade is not a bad idea because you’re getting money back and then some.
Going back to window replacement, most people don’t realize it’s going to take several years to see a return on investment. So, unless the windows are detracting from the curb appeal of your home, replacement would probably be something better left to the next homeowner.
What are some questions to ask before hiring a contractor?
Allen Lyle: Number one: regardless of the project you’re going to do, make sure you talk to more than one contractor. I recommend getting three bids for a job. Questions you need to ask include: Are you licensed? Are you insured? Do you carry workman’s comp?
Then, get nosy. Ask: “How long have you been in business? Can I see your business card?” You want someone who is established and has a physical address. Ask for references and call. The references need to be similar jobs. Ask for an itemized bid and what kind of guarantee is offered on finished work. If the contractor asks for half up front, walk away. A fair amount is 25 percent or sometimes 30 percent, depending on the size of the job. There should be a payment schedule.
The other thing is ask who is going to be onsite as the job foreman, and if you can meet them first. In a lot of cases, the contractor is in his office and he’s got two or three crews out there. You want to know who will be at your house, and who it is that you can rely on and communicate with throughout the project.
Thanks, Allen! Here’s where you can find Today’s Homeowner locally:
Baltimore, Md. — WMAR (ABC), Saturdays at 5 a.m.
Charlotte, N.C. — WSOC (ABC), Saturdays at 5:30 a.m.
Harrisburg, Pa. — WHP (MY TV), Saturdays at 7:30 a.m.
Richmond, Va. — WTVR (CBS), Saturdays at 5 a.m.
Washington, D.C. — WJAL, Sundays at 1 p.m.
Find the radio show or podcasts online here.
Looking for a home improvement contractor?
The Long family has served the home improvement needs of families across the mid-Atlantic for over 70 years. If you are looking for new windows or a roof replacement, please contact us at 1-866-328-1187 or visit us online. Please see reviews of our work at GuildQuality.com.