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Time to spruce up the house
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MONROE - The first hint of spring in the air is enough to put the home improvement itch in any homeowner.

Room additions or major remodels can give an old house new life - and can be well out of reach for many cost-conscious owners. A little paint inside and maybe a little landscaping outside to help can help, but what do you do you if you want a more dramatic change for the minimum amount of cash?

Here's a few products available locally that can help spruce up a home:

Paint old bathtubs

Homeowners stuck with an old, discolored bathtub or pink tile in the bathroom can find a cheap and easy solution in a small paint kit.

House to Home Designs on the Square sells an epoxy paint that's suitable for tubs, tile or sinks. A box costs about $35 and will cover a bathtub or about 45 square feet. It works on porcelain, fiberglass and ceramic tile.

The box promises a relatively simple three-step application process that involves prepping the surface, painting and letting it dry, which requires three days of curing time.

House to Home owner Robin Nafzger said the paint is a great solution for people who want an updated look, but can't commit to the cost of a total bathroom remodeling.

"It will last quite a few years," she said of the paint finish.

Nafzger said there's even paints available to give outdated stainless steel appliances and countertops a modern look - they also are inexpensive and relatively easy to apply.

Those products are available by special order through House to Home.

Finishing touches for the exterior

Homeowners looking to freshen up the exterior of their homes can get a whole new look by adding shutters.

Pro Build in Monroe (formerly United Building Center) carries vinyl shutters in a "dizzying array" of 50 to 60 colors to choose from, said Dan Ziolkowski, center manager at the Monroe store. They also are available primed and ready to be painted to match a home's exterior or in wood.

Installation is do-it-yourself, providing "you can read a tape measure and read a level," he said. The shutters attach with a colored rivet similar to a drywall anchor for installing on vinyl siding over wood. Shutters can be ordered with screws for attaching to brick or other surfaces.

Shutters cost between $45 and $60 per pair (one pair per window.)

Another option for the exterior is installing a cultured stone facade. Ziolkowski said this has been popular in recent years for the front of a garage or around an entryway.

The project is more involved than attaching shutters, and he recommends homeowners hire someone familiar with masonry. Siding is removed and a metal mesh installed - the cultured stone is affixed to the mesh.

The material itself costs about $3 per square foot, he said. It comes in a variety of finishes, including brick and field stone.

Add a fireplace

Few things are as inviting as a roaring fire in the fireplace. Fortunately for homeowners, adding a new gas unit is another relatively affordable upgrade.

In addition to ambience, fireplaces also are used as supplemental or backup heat in a specific area, said Dave Kammerer, installation manager at Lanz Furnace and Fireplace in Monroe.

Newer units are energy-efficient and there's a wide range of style and finish choices. "Fireplacing has come a long way in the last three to five years," he said. "The energy efficiency is amazing."

The newer direct vent gas units can be installed almost anywhere in the home. A direct vent unit is a sealed system, meaning it pulls air from the outside and vents flue gases back out through special pipes.

This eliminates the common complaint of wood fireplaces that pull air from the interior of the house as the fire burns, he said.

Prices vary depending on the style and type of cabinetry selected, but a unit installed will cost somewhere between $2,000 and about $5,000, he said.

Those who have an existing wood-burning fireplace can purchase a gas insert.

"Gas inserts are really popular," he said. "People don't use wood because it's so cold." The inserts are much more energy efficient, making them even more appealing, he noted.

Again, it will depend on accessories and doors, but a gas insert installed will cost somewhere between $2,300 and $4,500.

Kammerer does recommend both direct vent and gas insert units be installed professionally because the process involves hooking up the gas line.