Thursday, October 31, 2013

Unfinished remodel is a costly lesson

Van Thu Ta and her husband, Hai Quach, paid a contractor $25,500 in cash and checks to renovate their south Charlotte kitchen. They wanted the full treatment – two walls taken down and a new island, floors, appliances and granite countertops.
The contractor started work in June ... and stopped in August. She hasn’t seen or heard from him since, she said.
Two walls came down. The cabinets and some of the flooring went in, but not the countertops or the appliances.
She’s contacted the Better Business Bureau and Angie’s List to complain about the contractor’s work. She said the information she has since found about the contractor at online referral sites could be misleading.
“Don’t trust anyone,” said Ta, 39, “and don’t pay up front.”
In this video, you can get a better look at the unfinished project.

North Carolina residents can file complaints against contractors with the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General’s Office, which enforces the state’s consumer protection laws.
You can get tips for selecting a remodeler from the National Association of the Remodeling Industry’s Charlotte chapter.
One of the association’s tips is to check out the contractors you are considering with consumer protection agencies.
Ta, a hairdresser, thought a referral from a client was something she could trust. The contractor she hired showed her samples of his work on his phone.
She did get a signed contract before the work started, and she’s got records of her payments, she said.
Ta and her husband recently paid $12,000 for more appliances. He plans to finish the renovation.

Sullivan: and @sullivan_obs on Twitter

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Solar-powered house wins praise, awards

The 850-square-foot, solar-powered home built by students at UNC Charlotte won a People’s Choice Award and tied for third place for engineering recently.
Designing and building a house for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon over the past two years could have even greater importance for the architecture and engineering students in the years to come, said Meg Whalen, a university spokesperson.
“For many of the students, they really had not thought about solar-powered homes” before the project, she said. “They learned to value that. It will become something that they certainly see as viable and something to continue to strive for.”
Students wanted a project to inspire future builders and home buyers. They studied Charlotte’s Center City 2020 Vision Plan for insights. Their design, Urban Eden, has 30 solar panels over the roof that are intended to produce all of the energy residents would need.
The solar panels are retractable. They slide out over the deck to shade it in summer. In winter, they move back to allow the sun’s heat to warm the deck and interior. Students added vertical gardens to preserve a link to nature.
The gardens and the moveable solar panels were favorites among the 10,000 people who toured during the competition and expo for 20 college teams.
UNC Charlotte had problems with appliances and placed 13th overall, but the team’s concept was more solid, Whalen said.
“What we kept hearing was such positive feedback about the design,” Whalen said. “They thought it was pretty and liveable.”

Sullivan: and @sullivan_obs on Twitter

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Win a free advance tour of HomeArama

I’m almost sure I’ll never be able to afford a house like the one shown here. Still, I’m looking forward to taking a walk-through sometime between Nov. 9 and 24.
Those are the dates for this year’s HomeArama home tour.
Twenty lucky people out there won’t have to wait that long to see this and the five other luxury homes on the tour, in the Cheval community in Mint Hill.
A random drawing will give each of them a special behind-the-scenes tour, from 10 a.m. to noon on Nov. 2.
This SmarterLiving event is presented by The Charlotte Observer and the Home Builders Association of Charlotte, which presents HomeArama.
Observer real estate columnist Allen Norwood will lead the tour. He’s already scouting for cool technology and “green” additions that define smart living. Of course, there will be plenty to see that’s just inspiring in these homes, priced from $500,000 to $1 million.
Learn about HomeArama’s builders and register for the drawing by Oct. 29 at or send your contact information to
Sullivan: and @Sullivan_obs on Twitter

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Local potters on display Saturday at festival

If buying local goods is important to you, carve out an hour or so Saturday. Carolina Clay Matters Fall Pottery Festival will be back at McAlpine Business Park, 8300 Monroe Road, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

More than 60 artists from the Carolina Clay Matters Pottery Guild will sell decorative and food-safe ceramics on the grounds of the former dairy farm. (Doris Landrum created the piece shown above.)

The twice-yearly event draws a good crowd in May, but the fall show is even bigger, said membership secretary Rae Stark.
“We have a lot of people who do their holiday shopping,” Stark said.
Potters tend to work alone in a studio or at home. The 150-member guild has helped them become a closer community.

The group’s next meeting will be at noon Nov. 17 at Central Piedmont Community College’s Ceramics Studio, where Shane Mickey will lead a workshop. The studio is in the Central Campus’ Center for Arts Technology (on East Fourth Street next to the student parking garage.)
“Our guild has helped to create and build interest in pottery,” Stark said. “We also have a community of consumers in the Charlotte area who appreciate handmade pottery.”
Sullivan: and @Sullivan_obs on Twitter

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

DSBG director says 'Value what we already have'

Kara Newport thinks a lot about climate change.
That’s one reason Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden’s executive director hasn’t ripped out the decades-old azaleas and dogwood trees from her yard. It’s also a reason she chose a home in Mount Holly that was built in 1919.
“This is my example of how I can work with nature and use the resources that I'm given,” she said. “A new landscape is not necessarily a better landscape.”
Those ideas about placing value on what we already have can work in public gardens such Daniel Stowe, where Newport has worked as director since 2006. She believes those concepts will also be embraced by the American Public Gardens Association, where she is a new board member. The 73-year-old association is taking on climate change through an initiative called Youtopia
The association has more than 500 member gardens in 50 states. With close ties to gardeners through organizations such as Charlotte’s Wing Haven and UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens, the association’s members believe they are in the right place to teach their patrons about climate change and ways that gardeners can help prevent it.
That can start, Newport said, with taking care of the established, well-adapted plants you have rather than using more resources to grow new ones.
Sullivan: and @sullivan_obs on Twitter