Energy Saving Tips to Save You Money Through the Last Days of Summer

Electric power poles with sunset behindWe’re in the midst of traditionally some of the hottest days of the summer. As you enjoy these last few weeks of August (and even September can see some high temps) we’d like to share with you some energy saving tips. You’ll save on your utility bills, and be prepared to save money and conserve energy next summer.

AC Operation

  • It’s not too late for an air conditioner tune-up. You’ll get your AC unit in shape this year, and will potentially have less issues to address next year, plus you’ll uncover any hidden issues that could turn into a larger problem if left unresolved. During servicing request that your AC Coil is cleaned. Air conditioning units need sufficient air flow to perform efficiently.
  • Set your air conditioner as high as possible, at least to a minimum of 78 degrees when you’re home, and 85 degrees when you’re not home. You use about 3%-5% more energy per degree when your air conditioner is set below 75 degrees F.
  • Replace AC filters monthly for the most efficient operation.

Home Performance

  • Windows and doors often leak air, and your walls may not have sufficient insulation. Seal leaks around doors and windows, and install weather-stripping and insulation. A home energy audit — available through many local utilities for free or a low cost — can uncover where you’re wasting energy.
  • Keep windows, blinds and curtains closed during the day, particularly if those windows face the sun. Even better install heat-trapping blackout curtains or heat control window film on your windows to keep heat out.
  • Perform heat producing activities such as cooking and laundry during the cooler hours of the day.
  • Air-dry dishes and clothing, and wash only full loads of dishes and clothes.
  • Avoid opening doors any more than necessary, particularly on hot days.
  • Refrain from activities that generate heat including burning candles, watching TV, and using curling irons or hair dryers.
  • Close doors and vents to rooms you aren’t using; e.g. if you have an extra bedroom not currently used don’t waste money cooling it.
  • Use pool and spa covers; they can reduce heat loss as much as 90%.

Other Appliances

  • Use a ceiling fan to provide extra cooling and air circulation. Ceiling fans make you feel cooler, but they use less electricity than your AC unit; a ceiling fan costs about 5 cents per hour to operate. Set the fan in the counterclockwise direction so it pulls cool air from the floor and circulates it. And turn off the fan when you leave the room.
  • Install a programmable thermostat and use it. If you are regularly gone during the day it’s easy to set it so your home is warmer while you are gone, but by the time you come home it’s cool. A programmable thermostat can save you as much as $180 yearly in energy costs.
  • Replace appliances with Energy Star appliances. Often local utility companies offer rebates for updating your appliances, and the Federal government has programs offering tax breaks for purchasing and installing more energy efficient appliances.
  • Plug electronics — such as Blu-ray players, TVs, and gaming systems — into power strips, and turn off the power when they are not in use.
  • Move refrigerators and freezers from the garage to an insulated area such as the basement or an unused room. The unit won’t have to work as hard if it’s in a cooler location.

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Custom Fabricated Bars For Your Home or Business

J.T. Unique is our fabrication shop comprised of two divisions: Cozy Cabin Outfitters (themed décor packages for homeowners), and custom fabricated items manufactured primarily for the commercial industry (although still available to anyone). In our fabrication shop we most often batch produce unique custom furnishings, cabinetry and other pieces for hotels, restaurants and other commercial businesses.

A Look at Our Shop

J. Thompson Builders J.T. Unique Shop Production Area

Behind the scenes look at our clean, organized shop with outstanding woodworking tools.

Custom Fabricated Bars: Production and Finished

One of the products we often produce for our clients are bars tops. Our custom bar tops are made from reclaimed wood from old barns and factories. We finish each with a durable high gloss resin to make them long-lasting and resistant to stains, and general wear and tear. These bar tops withstand years of use at our commercial clients’ hotels and restaurants.

J. Thompson Builders_J.T. Unique bar production process

Custom Fabricated Bar production process

J. Thompson Builders_J.T. Unique finished bars

Finished and installed custom fabricated bars

While the basic bar top material used is reclaimed wood, we can also add metal, stone or other items to personalize them. Whatever you have in mind, we can work with you to design a unique bar suited to the style of your home or business.

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Best Home Remodeling Projects for 2016

houseIn our last blog 7 Costly Home Improvement Mistakes to Avoid we told you that over half of U.S. adults completed a home improvement project within the last 12 months, and that the home remodeling market has grown steadily with more growth expected this year. It’s an industry that is no doubt not slowing down.

But what remodeling tips are most relevant in 2016? These home improvements are most attractive to buyers today, and the projects that will help you to recoup the most money when you sell.

Adding/Remodeling a Fireplace

Fireplaces are at the top of buyers’ list. A stylish, functional fireplace adds to your home’s value – as much as $12,000 says the National Association of Realtors.

Hardwood Flooring

Hardwood flooring may or may not affect the final selling price of the home, but they do enhance your home and help it to sell faster. Most buyers prefer hardwood over carpet. The only place buyers sometimes prefer carpet? Answer: the bedrooms.

Door Replacement

Replacing the front door with a better quality door can increase the home’s selling price significantly. Fiberglass doors have a ROI (return on investment) of 72%, while steel doors increase the return by as much as 101.8%.

Kitchen Remodel

Because so much time is spent in the kitchen home buyers look at the kitchen as a room that can make or break the sale. On a minor kitchen remodel, the national average payback was 79.3% in Remodeling magazine’s 2015 Cost vs. Value Report, while a major kitchen remodel (over $20,000) brings in a bit lower ROI at 65%.

Adding an Extra Bedroom

We’ve been talking about the value of adding extra bedrooms and living spaces for a few years, particularly to move in aging parents or to house young adult children not quite ready to leave the nest. Some recent data suggests it’s also a beneficial selling point as simply turning an attic space into a bedroom can increase your home value by $39,908. This may be in part due to the fact that a bigger family demands more living space and is willing to pay for it.

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7 Costly Home Improvement Mistakes to Avoid

tools-1183374_192053% of U.S. adults completed a home improvement project within the past 12 months according to Nielsen Scarborough. IBISWorld estimates home remodeling as a $52 billion market, growing 3.8% between 2009 and 2014. Remodeling activity is predicted to have year-over-year quarterly growth averaging 4.4% in 2016. But not all home improvements are solid investments, and these mistakes may cost you more in either or both the short or long term.

Hiring a Contractor

Get quotes from and interview several contractors to make sure you choose one you trust and whose ideas aligns with your vision. Check their references and ask them about their credentials and licensing. Check the Better Business Bureau to find out if they’ve had complaints logged against them. Get all agreements in writing.

Return on Investment

If you plan to sell your home and recoup the money you invest in a home improvement project make sure the project offers a good return. While renovations can cost thousands of dollars, they generally won’t increase the value of the home by that much. Most buyers will pay more for a “visible” upgrade such as high-end appliances, but they won’t be willing to pay more for hidden upgrades such as new electrical wiring. The value a home improvement project retains at resale varies in each market. Remodeling Magazine offers a Cost vs Value report to illustrate the differences. For example, San Francisco averages greater than a 100% return on the suite of 27 projects Remodeling Magazine evaluates (a number unseen in any other market, but most likely due to the housing shortage); nothing in Des Moines, IA returns more than 71%. Real estate agents and contractors may be able to advise you on the potential return you’ll receive from a project.


Consider how your home stacks up to others in the neighborhood. If its market value is on the high end already improvements won’t increase its value much. A home’s value is usually dependent on and limited by the median price of the other homes in the neighborhood.

Cheap Materials, Being Frugal

The old adage “you get what you pay for” runs true in home improvement as well. Don’t cut corners by using cheap materials. Otherwise you may have to make expensive repairs down the road because you chose cheap over quality. The cost difference between many materials is minor, yet choosing higher quality materials (such as tile over vinyl) will set your home apart from the rest. And if you can’t afford the materials now, it’s better to wait until you can.


Once the project begins, it’s best to stick to the plan as much as possible. If you change your mind after a piece of the project is finished it can require tearing it out and starting over. Contractors may also charge change order fees anytime the plan is reworked.


Secure any necessary permits, and check on the requirements BEFORE starting a project. Permits are there to protect you, and to ensure your home is safe. Often inspections are required at the rough-in and finishing stages for many remodeling and renovation projects. If you don’t acquire the proper permits, it could result in fines and you may have to tear out any work completed. Contact your local city office to ask about permits, and make sure your contractor has the proper permits before beginning work.


Don’t set an unrealistic budget. You don’t want to run out of cash mid-project. Your project can get more expensive once it’s underway if you aren’t prepared for the costs. Get estimates from several different contractors so that you understand the project’s cost. Then add 10-20% to the total to have in reserve in case any issues arise.

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Custom Fabricated Mantels Add Unique Style to Your Home or Business

We specialize in knotty, gnarly, natural wood mantels.

We specialize in knotty, gnarly, natural wood mantels.

J.T. Unique is our fabrication shop; it’s actually comprised of two divisions, our Cozy Cabin Outfitters (themed décor packages for homeowners), and custom fabricated items primarily for the commercial industry. In our fabrication shop we batch produce unique custom furnishings, cabinetry and other pieces for hotels, restaurants and other commercial businesses.

You can see some of the work we’ve done for the hospitality industry here:

From Drab to Fab: Building Custom Hotel Furniture for the Hospitality Industry

Sometimes the two divisions even overlap, as is the case with our custom mantels which are produced for commercial use as well as part of our Adirondack Retreat themed décor packages. As well J.T. Unique provides service to our custom home building and remodeling customers, offering custom fabricated mantels as an option.

Our custom mantels are a popular product for both homes and commercial properties. Our signature design – a cost effective choice – is a wavy timber mantle with a custom distressed glazed finish.We also specialize in using knotty, gnarly, natural wood materials. And we often produce coped log mantles (a unique style where two logs are fitted together following the curve).

Our signature wavy timber mantel.

Our signature wavy timber mantel.

Whatever you have in mind, we can work with you to design a mantle that is unique and represents the style of your home or business.

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What to Look For in a Home Renovation Contract

man signing home renovation contractA well written home renovation contract is thorough, and explains exactly what is to be done and how. The contract should also explain potential risks and issues and how they will be handled. Failure to read and understand the contract offers you as a homeowner no protection, but understanding your home renovation contract and making sure it offers everyone involved clear directions and responsibilities reduces the chances of disagreements, or financial or legal trouble.

Scope of Work

The scope of work is a detailed outline of what the job entails. A renovation contract should include project descriptions along with the materials and quantities required, including product model, color, size and brand. And it’s helpful if the contract explains the timeline of when each part of the project should occur so you can ensure the workers are making the expected progress.

The Schedule

The renovation contract should set the estimated start and completion date. It’s not uncommon for delays to occur, some caused by the client or contractor, and some out of either’s control, but it’s important to have an end goal to strive towards and to try to get back on track whenever delays occur.

The Cost (i.e. the Bid) & Payment

The agreement should clearly state prices and be inclusive. Ask if there are any additional fees or costs not included in the contract such as clean-up fees or the cost for temporary power.

The agreement should outline the payment schedule for the contractor, subcontractors and suppliers, and it should include what payment methods are acceptable, and if installment payments are an option. The contract may also include late payment penalties; know what these are in advance.

Contractor Responsibilities

The contract should clearly state what the contractor will and won’t do, including site clean-up and hauling trash. It’s important to understand who will be responsbile for the site clean-up work. As well it should clearly state who is selecting materials if some materials are to be chosen later and are not included in the original scope of work.


A renovation contract includes an estimate of the cost of materials. But because all costs can’t be completely accurately accounted for during the bidding process, the allowance acts as the budget for particular items, such as the kitchen cabinets. A contractor, through the contract, is allotted a certain budget in choosing such items so that the costs are still accounted for even through the total cost is not yet completely decided.

Agreement Changes

Renovation contracts should include a process for the contractor to follow if there are changes to the scope of work. A detailed contract should prevent a large amount of changes, but expect a few changes. Because changes are sometimes costly and time consuming, the agreement should clearly state how to handle such changes. (i.e. the homeowner must be notified and give consent first).


The renovation contract should include information about any warranties which cover the material and work performed. It should include details of the names and contact information of who is covering the warranty, including contractors and manufacturers. The warranty period and any limitations should also be clearly explained.


Because of the risks involved in construction, a renovation contract should contain information about insurance. If a contractor does not have adequate insurance, you may be held liable. Even if the contractor carries liability insurance (to cover harm caused by construction to non-workers and property), as well as worker’s compensation (to cover injury to workers), you may want to ensure you have builder’s risk or other renovation insurance to cover damage from fire, wind or theft.

Because a renovation contract, once accepted, becomes a legally binding contract, understand the terms and conditions completely before signing. This ensures both your and your contractor will face fewer issues during the renovation process.

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Is It Worth It? Resale Value of Home Renovations

Based on the influx of home improvement shows, you’d think home renovation jobs are always an improvement and equate to a higher resale value. But how much will that home improvement project cost and is it worth it in the long run? Our friends at and Hanley Wood bring us this informative infographic to show you the real costs of a home renovation.


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Building Safety Month: History of the International Code Council

construction of commercial buildingDid you know May is Building Safety Month?

It happens every May, and it’s a public awareness campaign established by the International Code Council (ICC) in conjunction with its worldwide members and professionals from the construction, design and safety industries. During this month the ICC helps individuals as well as businesses understand the need for codes, and their strong enforcement, as well as the need for a professionally trained workforce to maintain the system, all so we have safe and sustainable structures.

But why are building codes all that important you may wonder, and why should you care? Well, if you (or people you care about) live in, work in, or ever enter a building, you should consider stringent, professional building codes important!

History of the Codes

The establishment of building codes purportedly dates back to as early as 1800 BC. The first known building code was enforced by the Babylonian emperor Hammurabi, and called the Code of Hammurabi. It simply stated “If a builder builds a house for someone, and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built falls in and kills its owner, then that builder shall be put to death.”

Several building regulation codes were passed throughout the subsequent years, sometimes in reaction to disastrous events such as the Great Fire of London in 1666 and the Great Baltimore Fire in 1904. Much of the earlier codes were focused on fire resistance, but later codes focused as much on public health.

In the early twentieth century building regulations in the United States were based on building codes developed by regional model code groups: the Building Officials Code Administrators International (east coast and midwest), Southern Building Code Congress International (southeast) and the International Conference of Building Officials (west coast and midwest).

About the International Code Council

While the regional codes were deemed effective, in the early 1990s the three model code groups decided to organize and in 1994 they formed the International Code Council, a non-profit organization, as an effort to develop codes without regional limitations. The first edition of the International Building Code was published in 1997 and was based on the codes previously used by all three organizations. The ICC has been in existence ever since and still holds the mission of providing high quality codes and standards to create safe buildings and in turn protect the health, safety and welfare of people. The ICC’s International Codes® are comprehensive building safety and fire prevention codes that safeguard people at home, at school and in the workplace.

Conclusion/How You Can Help

This year’s Building Safety Month theme is Building Codes: Driving Growth through Innovation, Resilience and Safety. Each week of May there is a specific theme about building safety. You can check out the International Code Council’s events on their website, learn more about building codes, use the resources they provide to assist you in promoting Building Safety Month in your community or find out how to become a sponsor. Because while they are hard at work making sure our buildings are inhabitable, most of us take for granted the safety of the structures we walk through and live in every day.

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Trending: Reclaimed Wood Adds Instant Character

Our collection of reclaimed wood boards are organized into groupings in our shop

Our collection of reclaimed wood boards are organized into groupings in our shop

It came as no surprise when recently we saw yet another article touting the popularity of reclaimed wood. This particular article, published by Marketplace/American Public Media, mentions its popularity while highlighting a Brooklyn-based design+build practice/sustainable lumber resource that is securing their supply of reclaimed wood from New York City water tanks when they are repaired. The article hints to the fact that the popularity of the wood means suppliers are sourcing it from less known or unusual places. You can listen to the full story here:


Repurposing salvaged wood is a popular trend so much so that you can pick up popular home design and home product magazines and see it splashed across the pages. We recently mentioned the popularity of reclaimed wood in our blog 5 Custom Home Trends for 2016.

5 Custom Home Trends for 2016

Using reclaimed wood gives homes a distinct, unique look while also benefiting the environment. It has character difficult to duplicate as it most likely grew in natural environments, and is sturdy and strong. Repurposed wood is now commonly used in flooring, on doors and wall treatments, as well as for materials for furniture and other home decor pieces. We’ve previously talked about its use in wainscoting in our blog Rustic Wainscoting: What It Is and Why It’s Important.

Rustic Wainscoting: What It Is and Why It’s Important

A few years ago our client Stoney Creek Inn commissioned our custom fabrication shop, JT Unique, to create a bar top matching an upper bar already installed in one of its hotels. We made the top from 100+ year old reclaimed lumber and sealed it with a hard epoxy coat to preserve it for years to come. Watch the video below to see the raw, unfinished wood turn into a beautiful, durable, preserved piece:

If you want to know more facts about reclaimed wood, check out our blog Reclaimed Wood: What It Is and What You Should Know About It.

Reclaimed Wood: What It Is and What You Should Know About It

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From Drab to Fab: Building Custom Hotel Furniture for the Hospitality Industry

It’s not everyday we talk about our work in the hotel industry, but there is always a lot going on behind the scenes at J. Thompson Builders for our hospitality client Stoney Creek Hotels. Today we give you a peek into one of our latest custom hotel furniture projects.

Last year we explained the finish work we completed for a new Stoney Creek Hotel in Independence, MO. We briefly told you the story behind our relationship with the hotel company. Again, in summary, we’ve helped in the building of Stoney Creek hotels since 1997. In 2009 J. Thompson Builders started its custom fabrication shop so we could take over engineering all of the interior trim and finish work for the hotel line.

How J. Thompson Builders Transforms a Hotel Into Something Way Cooler

The Stoney Creek Inn located in Galena, IL was one of the first Stoney Creeks, and we’ve worked on that specific property since 1997 before J. Thompson Builders was officially a company (we weren’t established until 2002). In the last year we have built 29 pieces of furniture for the hotel; what we call our custom “Bachelor Chest Combos.”

Prototype of our Bachelor Chest Combos for Stoney Creek hotels_custom hotel furniture by J Thompson Builders

The prototype of our Bachelor Chest Combos sitting in our office.

We purely started making them out of necessity. The Stoney Creek Hotels needed to upgrade their standard rooms to include a refrigerator and microwave due to driving custom desire and trends. We came up with the design, concept and plans simply by using a free 3D modeling software called SketchUp.

The finished product is more attractive and unique than the standard dresser once used in the hotels’ rooms, and it offers greater utility.

Bachelor Chest Before for Stoney Creek hotel_custom hotel furniture by J Thompson Builders

Bachelor Chest Combo_custom hotel furniture_Stoney Creek hotel

Just a few weeks ago we finished 15 more Bachelor Chest Combos in our shop and shipped them to the hotel.

Composition picture of Bachelor Chest Combos ready to ship to Stoney Creek Inn in Galena, IL_custom hotel furniture by J Thompson Builders

Composition of Bachelor Chest Combos ready to ship to Stoney Creek Inn in Galena, IL

So if you’re ever staying in a Stoney Creek hotel, you’ll see traces of our work all around, whether you’re lounging in your room, grabbing a drink in the bar or swimming in the pool!

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