2018: VB Homes helps Complete 11th House Project for the Virginia Beach Education Foundation


On June 4th, 2018 VB Homes (in partner with the City of Virginia Beach Education Foundation and other local businesses) helped celebrate the 11th house project built by Virginia Beach students. We are honored to have participated and are proud of the students’ successful accomplishment. This home will be up for sale in the Fall of 2018 located at 1905 Evar Place, Virginia Beach, VA. For more information regarding this exciting project, visit the Virginia Beach Education Foundation website http://www.vbef.org/house/index.asp


North End House for Sale

Our remodeled spec home is now up for sale! This updated brick ranch is located at 55th Street and Myrtle Avenue has an open concept with 3 bedrooms and 2 baths. Contact Chas Ferguson or Larry Blum to schedule a showing at 757-416-8280. #wholehouseremodel #remodelproject #northend #virginiabeach #brickranch #vbhomes

Getting your garage in gear

Last month’s column featured 10 spring-cleaning tips for improving your home’s curb appeal. This month I offer 10 tips for improving the appearance and function of what can easily become the most unsightly room in your home: the garage.

A transitional space between indoors and out, garages can quickly become catchall spaces. That, coupled with the fact that debris is liable to blow in every time you open your garage door, means that garages are often dusty and dirty. Hopefully, these tips will help you get your garage in gear – even if there is currently no space in it for your car.



1. First, downsize. It’s not the most fun task, but it sure feels good when you are finished. Give away, throw away and donate anything that you have not used or repaired in the last year.

2. If your garage is still too crowded to move through it and work in it comfortably, consider a shed to hold larger items like bikes, wheelbarrows and the like.

3. Determine what you need to be able to store and/or accomplish in your garage and establish zones for each. Placement is key; if you want a potting shed in your garage, locate it near a door to the exterior.

4. If your garage is quite full, look up. Maybe you can hang bikes from ceiling-mounted racks or hoist them overhead on a pulley system. Or perhaps you can also install ceiling-mounted racks that install above garage doors for those infrequently used items such as holiday decorations. Be sure you hit studs when attaching these types of systems.

5. Also look down. Epoxy paint is popular among homeowners as a floor covering to resist stains and chemicals. To ensure that the paint will stick, you will need to power wash the floor and then apply an etching product before painting if a drop of water beads on the floor. As an alternative, rubber floor tiles are also popular: They hide a lot of wear, are comfortable underfoot and provide sound insulation.

6. Closed cabinets are nice for garage spaces because the doors keep out dust and debris. However, if that is not an option, clear bins with lids stored on open shelves is the next best option. Clear bins prevent the need for labeling and relabeling as the contents change.

7. Most homeowners find some kind of work surface, like a workbench, to be almost a required feature of their garage. Pegboard above puts tools and other supplies within easy reach. While you are at it, a potting bench also is nice.

8. New garage doors can be expensive, but if your home came with solid garage doors, replacing them with windowed doors will transform a dank and foreboding space into a light-infused work space. They can also dramatically enhance the appearance of your home from the exterior, as there are many stylish designs on the market nowadays.

9. The bare bulb mounted high on the ceiling of most garages is not adequate for all that goes on in these hardworking spaces. As in a kitchen, task lighting will make your garage a far more functional, safe and satisfying place to be.

10. Air temperature is another factor that contributes to your garage’s functionality. A ceiling-mounted, gas-fired, forced-air unit is sometimes desirable in winter, and a cooling unit – say a window unit or a portable AC unit – is helpful in summer if you spend many hours in your garage. Check with an expert, as ventilation and safety are key.

As you transform your garage, feel free to reach out with questions – and with solutions – that have worked for you at chris@vbhomesliving.com.


Spring cleaning: Clean up your curb-appeal act

Even though the weather of late might make us think otherwise, spring is here and with its arrival comes the urge to “spring clean.” But let’s not think only in terms of scrubbing and dusting, but also cleaning up your act in terms of curb appeal.

It has been said that “first impressions last.” So regardless of whether you are selling your home or planning on living in it for years to come, a clean, fresh, cared-for appearance from the street will attract buyers. It also makes coming home a more pleasant experience.

Curb appeal encompasses everything that can be seen from the curb: your driveway, landscaping, walkway and facade, including the front entrance. Even your roof. To help you be more objective, snap a photo of your house from the street and study it to determine what could be spiffed up. That ladder that you’ve been meaning to put away is hard to ignore in a digital image, but easy to walk past with an “I’ll get to that tomorrow.” Be sure to take a look during the day and in the evening, as different aspects will stand out, depending on lighting conditions.



As you analyze your photos, use this 10-step curb-appeal checklist:

1. Clean any surface that looks dirty, dingy, discolored or streaked. Sweep away cobwebs and all of the debris that gets caught in them. Pressure washing makes surfaces sparkle. And make sure your gutters aren’t growing gardens of their own.

2. Add some polish. Repaint trim that is chipped, peeling or discolored, consider changing the color of your front door, and add a nice, unfaded welcome mat.

3. Repair and replace anything that isn’t in ship-shape condition: shingles that are missing from the roof, louvers that are missing from shutters, pickets that are missing from fences and more.

4. Declutter. Relocate old flower pots, ladders and even bicycles strewn about the front porch and lawn.

5. Change out house numbers, mailboxes, planters, front-door hardware and even bigger ticket items, like garage doors, that aren’t stylish and attractive. Maybe add wooden trim details under the peaks of your roofline. Is your home contemporary, traditional or transitional? Choose styles that create either pleasing cohesion or contrast. And be sure the scale is right for your home; if too small, the additions look more like cheap clutter than substantial statements.

6. Repair your driveway or sidewalk if cracked. This can be expensive, but can make all the difference in ridding your home of an unkempt appearance. If you don’t mind spending the money, consider changing out your ho-hum walkway for one made of stone or brick to add style and charm.

7. Spruce up your planting beds with fresh mulch for crisp and clean contrast, and be sure to plant for year-round interest. But don’t add needed color with artificial plants; they look, well, artificial. Prune overgrown trees and shrubs, and replace any plants that aren’t performing well.

8. Replace any dead plants in containers and flower boxes. Nothing says, “I don’t care” quite like scraggly potted plants or empty pots. If you don’t have flower boxes, consider adding them in a style compatible with your home. Not all flower boxes are “cottage-y.”

9. Treat your windows to window treatments that create a neat and tidy look from the exterior.They need not be identical, but they should look balanced.

10. Replace any broken or missing outdoor lighting fixtures in the landscape or on the house. If they are outdated, switch them out for something that’s more current and correctly scaled to add interest, depth and even drama. If they are leaning this way or that, straighten them so they’ll look uniform.

So there you have my checklist. Share your “top 10” curb-appeal ideas with me at chris@vbhomesliving.com.

Shed light, not tears: Build a better garden shed

If your lifestyle demands a bit more storage outside of your house and garage, you are in need of either a good purge or a good shed.

Seriously, many homeowners, especially those who want to actually park their cars in their garages, need an additional workshop space or spot for lawn and garden tools and equipment, bicycles, pool and patio paraphernalia, and other outdoor-related possessions. If a metal or vinyl prefab utility shed suits your needs and your budget, any home improvement center will have several from which to choose. But if you are looking to go a more custom route to add character to your outdoor space, please keep reading.

DIYers are in luck, as there are many tool shed kits and plans available. But regardless of whether you choose to do it yourself or hire a contractor, options abound for sheds that are not just functional but visually appealing. These small outbuildings – usually at least 6-by-6-foot – are best placed where conveniently accessed , not visible from the street, and where they avoid blocking sight lines or access to other parts of the property. To avoid overwhelming your property, depending on its acreage, of course, you might not want to build too much larger than an 8-by-10 or 10-by-12-foot structure.

Corners of yards often work well for placement, but avoid low-lying areas, as drainage can become an issue. A dry, level area slightly elevated from the surrounding terrain is ideal. If drainage poses a concern, surrounding the shed with a bed of gravel or even building the shed on top of gravel is wise.

Sometimes gravel-filled trenches with pressure-treated 6-by-6’s to which the joists are attached are all the foundation that is needed. Other times, a floor built more like a deck with footings, posts and a wood frame is desirable, or even a concrete slab. If your shed is large, say, more than 200 square feet, foundations become a bit of a different ballgame requiring permanent foundations that extend down to the frost line. Clearance of some 3 feet around the shed keep it exposed to air and sunlight, which can help avoid issues with moisture and mildew.


Before becoming married to a location – or even to a shed, for that matter – check building and zoning codes, as there are regulations about size, property line setback and more. Before you call, have a general size for your structure in mind so that the information you obtain is specific to your project. Similarly, homeowners’ associations often have their own sets of rules and guidelines, so be sure your plans are in compliance to avoid conflict and potentially costly redos.

In terms of style, your shed certainly need not mimic the architecture of your home, but it should at least be complementary to your house and the surrounding neighborhood. That is easily achieved typically in one of several ways: mimicking your home’s roof profile – pitch, hip, gambrel, etc.; replicating roofing and siding materials; repeating colors, not only of siding and roof but of the door and trim; adding windows, including dormers; and incorporating other architectural features like columns, brackets and cupolas, maybe even a weathervane. Incorporating recycled materials and architectural salvage can really infuse your shed with charm.

Homey touches like a covered porch, a lamp and/or sconces, and a walkway are not only appealing, but practical. Fencing, potted plants, trellises with climbing vines (with room for air circulation), and other foundational type plantings help integrate the structure into its setting. Bird baths and feeders, “yard art” and decorative wall-mounted objects, door mats and furnishings – maybe even a gravel, brick, or paver patio – add the finishing touches.

On the inside, most sheds are highly utilitarian with unfinished framing and enough shelving, pegboards, hooks and bins to hold whatever needs held. Electrical outlets are a nice extra, especially if your shed is going to be used as a workshop but also in case you need extra lighting or, perhaps, a fan. Plumbing may or may not be a luxury, as a utility sink may be necessary for the function of your shed.

If your riding lawn mower will be housed in the shed and your shed is elevated, you will need a ramp. Both hinged and sliding doors work well in sheds, but if using the former, be sure to allow for the narrowed opening that hinges create so that your mower, wheelbarrow and other larger items fit through.

Photos of impossibly inventive and attractive sheds are rife on the internet. Peruse as many as you can so that you achieve the shed of your dreams from the get-go. Though sheds are one of the least expensive structures you can erect on your property, you still want to get it right the first time.

Chris Ettel is founding partner of VB Homes. He serves on the Tidewater Builders Association board of directors, served as past chairman of the TBA Remodelers Council and is a longtime board member of the Virginia Beach Public Schools Education Foundation. For more information, contact Chris@vbhomesliving.com or go to www.vbhomesliving.com.

These kitchen storage solutions can be incorporated into existing space, a remodel or new construction

The hardest- working room in your home often presents the most storage challenges, but also the most storage opportunities.

We are all familiar with the flip-down drawer below the kitchen sink for sponges and scrubbers, or appliance garages, but here I offer about a dozen additional options you may not have considered. Each can be incorporated into your existing kitchen, a remodel or new construction. Some are definitely DIY-appropriate, while you might prefer to hire a contractor for others. As with most home improvements, a comprehensive – rather than piecemeal – plan conceived in conjunction with someone with some degree of expertise is the smartest approach.

When we think about storage, there are both concealed and visible options. Homeowners have to decide how much of the latter they can tolerate and then try to build in as much of the former as possible to manage the rest.

Concealed storage Of the concealed variety, drawers, cabinets and pantries are the workhorses of most kitchens, with open shelving gaining popularity today. Most homeowners have long stored stacks of plates in upper cabinets, but folks are realizing that heavy plates are more easily lifted up than lifted down. This is where large lower drawers come into play. Consider inserting a movable peg system into a deep drawer to securely accommodate stacks of plates with varying diameters.

Similarly practical are deep drawers for pots with integrated rollouts in the upper portion to hold lids or flatter items, like trivets or even potholders. Another deep-drawer system for pots includes a partition at the back to hold the lids.

Lazy Susans are often installed in corners to make use of that deep under-counter space, but you might consider corner drawers instead. Though the shape of these drawers results in a pair of triangular-shaped compartments in the front, small items like spice jars fit there nicely. And these drawers’ narrow width and extra depth is generally welcome.

In regard to virtually all drawers and cabinets, one word comes to mind: retractable. Retractable shelves, baskets and the like dramatically increase the functionality of these spaces. For upper cabinets, consider pull-downs so that items in the back are easily reachable.

We don’t typically think about seating in relation to storage, but seating does take up valuable real estate in a kitchen eating area, like a bar or island. Why not consider vintage-style swivel stools that tuck out of sight when not in use but easily rotate into place as needed?

A simple solution is to store some items in an adjacent area like a breakfast room, dining room or even living space. But what about the stairs? While most people who live in two-story homes have already made use of their under-stair storage space, usually in the form of a closet, many people have not considered converting the bottom few stairs to drawers. Someone with building expertise should take on this task, as the strength and stability of the stairs must not be compromised. It would be so handy to store flatter items like trays, cutting boards, baking sheets or place mats in these stair drawers, since, in many homes, they are located near the kitchen and dining room.


Visible storage One of the sleekest visible storage solutions is a kitchen rail system. Generally stainless steel, this type of system may not be appropriate for all styles of kitchens, but it places within easy reach frequently used tools and other items. This frees up drawer, cabinet and counter space . Depending on the system, which is typically installed beneath upper cabinets or floating shelving, homeowners can choose between a highly functional and handsome range of components to mix and match with their rails and brackets: mini-shelves, cylindrical utensil holders, rectangular compartments, herb pots and much more.

For those who don’t mind a somewhat fuller look, shelves above windows or doorways can create a great deal of storage space for both decorative and functional items.

If cabinet space is limited, but floor space is less so, an attractive lidded or unlidded basket might be the ideal place to stand up cutting and bread boards. Keep in mind that if you have a pet who sheds, fur may collect in or around the basket.

If pantry space is also limited, consider decanting your herbs and spices into small magnetic canisters and adhering them to the side of your fridge, assuming one side is open and conveniently located to your stove or food preparation area.

And speaking of counters, one of our favorite uncommon solutions is a countertop with an integrated bowl or seamless depression in the surface of the counter meant to prevent eggs and other round fruits and vegetables from rolling off the counter.

Another is a cutting board with a hole positioned over a receptacle so that trimmings can easily be swept into the waste bin, and conveniently removed.

Hopefully, some of these ideas may solve some of your stickiest storage issues.

If you have a question about building, remodeling or storage solutions – or have a storage solution you would like to share – please send them to me at chris@vbhomesliving.com.

Chris Ettel is founding partner of VB Homes. He serves on the Tidewater Builders Association board of directors, served as past chairman of the TBA Remodelers Council and is a longtime board member of the Virginia Beach Public Schools Education Foundation. For more information, go to www.vbhomesliving.com.

Be smart about smartifying your home – it can get complicated

Ever since homes started getting smarter, “smart” has referred to rapidly evolving technological options for controlling virtually all of the systems in your home. Who thought, even five years ago, that we would be talking to an inanimate object named Alexa – and she would respond?

At its simplest, a “smart” product is one with an internet connection (in order to receive commands and software updates) that you can control with your phone or tablet or through a central hub (automation controller or bridge). These devices perform at least one of three functions: They sense, process and/or respond.

Today’s smart home is all about app-controlled gadgets accessible remotely from your phone that give you more convenient control over the following: appliances (e.g. coffee makers), entertainment ( TV streaming devices), HVAC ( energy-saving thermostats), lighting ( smart bulbs and switches), security ( locking mechanisms, indoor/outdoor cameras with motion detection, two-way communication) and various storage capabilities. They also offer either self- or subscription-monitored smoke detectors and alarms), smart power outlets, pet and elder care (e.g. pet feeding), and even cleaning and maintenance (e.g. robotic vacuuming and mowing).

But raising your home’s IQ isn’t as straightforward as you might hope. Choosing a platform like Apple HomeKit, Google Home or Samsung SmartThings may be the most straightforward approach to creating a home automation network – either fully automated or semi-autonomous – that interfaces with smartphones and tablets while linking devices together.

These and other similar platforms are, essentially, kits with a number of compatible devices. At least in theory, proprietary devices made by the same manufacturer should happily communicate with each other because they use the same wireless standard or, at least, understand different protocols (WiFi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, Z-Wave and more). However, most smart devices will work independently.

Smart homes can offer TV displays that’s hidden by a mirror.

The benefit of buying single platform-compatible devices is that they can all be controlled from one hub and one app, rather than from multiple hubs and apps. A hub should be able to bring together signals from different devices, allowing them to be controlled by the hub’s app when the hub is connected to the home’s network via WiFi or wired network connection.

Do your research and read the fine print. Frustration with the inability of proprietary devices made by different manufacturers to communicate with each other is leading other manufacturers to produce gadgets that work with all smart home platforms. The up- and downsides? While new partnerships and integrations are continually being added, devices can quickly become outdated.

The bottom line? Don’t lose your phone. Seriously, be smart about smartifying your home.

Before you connect, be clear about your needs related to tasks and routines, prioritize them, start with a few high-priority basics, choose a platform that supports as many of them as possible, and base future buying decisions accordingly. Avoid bewildering yourself and overcomplicating things if you don’t have to. And if a device or capability doesn’t make your home safer, save money, save time or increase enjoyment of your home, it may not be a smart choice for you.

Getting started can seem overwhelming and, while much of the technology is considered do-it-yourself, you might prefer to hire a professional to help you navigate this brave new world.

If you have a question on building, remodelingor raising your home’s IQ, please send them to chris@vbhomesliving.com.

Chris Ettel is founding partner of VB Homes. He serves on the Tidewater Builders Association board of directors, served as past chairman of the TBA Remodelers Council and is a longtime board member of the Virginia Beach Public Schools Education Foundation. For more information, contact Chris@vbhomesliving.com or go to www.vbhomesliving.com.

Exterior Siding and Cladding

Building or remodeling a home is usually based on space needs and aesthetics. One of the most public decisions regarding appearance is surely your choice of siding material. But I encourage you to also consider other factors when choosing this all-important material, especially factors like protection, durability and, realistically, how willing you are to maintain it. Also, if you have a homeowners association, your selection may require its approval. Following are more specific considerations, alphabetized by type of material:

BRICK Nothing says “built-to-last” like brick. In our area, many of the middle-century ranch homes, as well as Colonial- and Tudor-style homes, are clad in brick or brick veneer. The latter requires a moisture barrier between the veneer and the home’s wooden frame. Bricks, which are made from fired clay, come in a wide range of rich and subtle colors, but they are labor-intensive to install – and they can be more difficult to match if you ever add on – so be sure to include that installation cost in your tally.yu3a0462

Example of Fiber-Cement Siding

FIBER-CEMENT SIDING Fiber-cement siding may be the best option for many homeowners. Not only does its natural look mimic masonry, stucco or wood with less expense, but it is low maintenance while resisting flames and termites. Expert installation helps ensure you will encounter no moisture-related issues from this product, which is available in a spectrum of colors, styles and textures. Expect it to last from 25 to 50 years.

STONE Stone and natural or synthetic stone veneer (lighter weight and less expensive), if chosen with restraint – otherwise it can look gaudy – provides long-lasting natural beauty and durability. Texture and visual interest are its hallmarks, as is its cost. So stone may be a good choice to combine with another material, adding visual interest to selected architectural features, like around a front entrance.

STUCCO Stucco, familiar to most of us from Spanish Mission- and Mediterranean-style homes, is typically made of sand, Portland cement, lime and water. It requires a moisture barrier and galvanized metal screening underneath for protection. Installation is of paramount importance to prevent cracks from developing in this rigid material. Dryvit is a synthetic stucco-look material that was very popular in our area years back, but got a bad rap due to costly moisture problems resulting from improper installation. Exterior Insulation and Finish System, or EIFS (polystyrene panels with an acrylic coating), is the broader term for synthetic stucco, which is still a viable option, provided it is installed by professionals and maintained properly. The latter includes regular inspection of the surface for punctures, especially after a storm, and the caulked joints – which real stucco does not have – for damage. Other limitations include that EIFS siding should not touch the ground where it could potentially soak up ground water, nor should it have anything attached to it, like a mailbox or flag pole, that could puncture the surface.

VINYL SIDING Vinyl siding is the most popular choice, offering low cost of material and installation, versatility of colors and styles, low maintenance, durability and, should you be a DIYer, installation that you could potentially take on yourself. If you can get past its “plastic” appearance, it may be your best option.

Example of Vinyl Siding

WOOD For a rich, organic, authentic look, wood – available as clapboard or lap siding, shakes and shingles – is hard to beat. Especially appropriate for bungalow-, Cape Cod- and cottage-style homes, as we know from examples of historic architectures, wood is durable if it is maintained properly. And in our coastal climate, staying on top of that requires real commitment to painting and staining. Wood is also attractive to critters, but it can be treated for fire-retardance. Western red cedar and redwood are thought to offer the most visual appeal and durability. When figuring the cost, be sure to figure in more labor-intensive installation as well as finishing.

Send questions to chris@vbhomesliving.com. Virginia Beach native and JMU graduate Chris Ettel is founding partner of VB Homes. Ettel serves on the Tidewater Builders Association board of directors and is past chairman of the TBA Remodeler’s Council.

Insulate: over, under and around

Proper insulation for our homes is an important cost, comfort and ecological consideration, regardless of the outdoor temperatures. But we tend to think more about insulation as the mercury starts to drop and frigid winds pick up. If you are building, remodeling or simply thinking of swapping out existing insulation in those areas of your home that are accessible, you will want to keep reading.


Essentially, you can choose between four types of insulation: two types of batts and two types of spray-in foam, each with benefits and drawbacks. Batts, both fiberglass and cotton, are perfectly sized to fit in the spaces between the standard spacing of wood supports in walls and ceilings. Paper-backed to provide a moisture barrier, batts are an effective and very economical choice, and they’re easy to install, except in odd-shaped spaces. Cotton batts, made from recycled denim jeans, offer the added benefit of being a bit more eco-minded, though at a slightly higher price, while fibers released by fiberglass batts are not healthy to breathe, at least not for the installer. Once they are sealed inside walls, they are thought to pose little hazard.

Open cell polyurethane foam is soft and lightweight and can be blown into the oddest-shaped and hardest-to-reach spaces. Homeowners can expect a better insulation value along with better protection from drafts. They also can expect to pay significantly more. Its cousin, closed cell foam, is denser because of sealed air pockets filled with an insulating gas, which provides greater insulation value and greater moisture protection while actually strengthening the structure. But you can expect to pay even more for these perks. You also can expect to have to cut it away if wires or pipes are added in the future.

There is also rigid foam sheathing or foam board, which is applied to the exterior of the home. Though it is a bit more expensive and not as strong as plywood sheathing (which doesn’t matter if you apply it over the plywood), rigid foam board provides better insulation than plywood alone while doing some heavy lifting against moisture (by preventing both leaks and accumulation) and against air leakage. Rigid foam controls both air infiltration and exfiltration, unlike some house wraps which only guard against the former.

Since it is so important, what exactly is the aforementioned insulation value? R-value refers to the transfer of heat between the interior and exterior of your home, what professionals refer to as thermal resistance. The higher the number, the less transfer because there is greater resistance. With less heat conduction, you can expect energy savings, which are good for your wallet and good for the environment. Today’s homes can achieve an R-value of R-15 up to a R-19 in walls and R-38 in the attic.

Once you understand the science behind this heat conductivity, you will undoubtedly discover that air-sealing your home – creating a tight envelope, as we say – goes hand-in-hand with insulating. That is, R-values alone do not tell the whole story. Addressing both radiation (air moving from a hotter to a cooler material) and convection (the movement of heat and moisture) ensures that your home is the most energy-efficient and comfortable that it can be.

And don’t forget your crawl space. Insulation materials and vapor barriers are also right at home here, whether your crawl space is ventilated or not. If ventilated, you will want to insulate under the subfloor and between the floor joists, while if unventilated, you will instead want to insulate the walls, perhaps with a vapor barrier over the dirt floor.

Though all this talk of R-values, roofs and crawl spaces isn’t terribly sexy, you can further insulate your home with eye-appealing window- and glass-door treatments, such as insulated drapes and cellular blinds. It’s never too late to better insulate.

Chris Ettel is founding partner of VB Homes. He serves on the Tidewater Builders Association board of directors, served as past chairman of the TBA Remodelers Council and is a longtime board member of the Virginia Beach Public Schools Education Foundation. For more information, contact Chris@vbhomesliving.com or go to www.vbhomesliving.com.