Friday, January 23, 2015

What Were They Thinking? Top 10 Building and Remodeling Mistakes

Ten of Our Favorite Building & Remodeling Blunders

From across the internet

sink and faucet fail
#10: Missed it by that much.

#9: Like a bridge over troubled... nope. Just a bridge.

#8: Our local hangout.

#7: Manhole...Manhalf cover.


#6: George of the Jungle. Watch out for that...

#5: Architecture by M.C.Escher

#4: That should take care of your leak.

#3: It's fine. I did the same thing with a tree out front.

#2: Your driveway is finished, Mr. Knievel

#1: You said you had a 'handicapped bathroom'...?

Daniel Batal is the author and owner at Focalpoint Renovations

Monday, January 19, 2015

How to remove a stripped or broken screw in seconds!

How To Remove A Stripped or Broken Screw

I have watched more people strip or break screws installing decking, cabinets, doors... you name it. A lot of them ruin whatever it's stuck in trying to get it out. 
The one thing they have in common? 
Most of them don't know how easy it is to fix. Take a look

6 second stripped screw removal

I know what you're thinking...

You're welcome.

Daniel Batal is the author and owner at Focalpoint Renovations

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Does Vimeo beat YouTube for SEO?

  Does Vimeo beat YouTube for SEO? Good question!

"Geez. SEO again, Daniel??"   Sorry, but...Yeah.

Listen, part of being a business owner nowadays is knowing how to advertise and drive business your way.

For guys like me in the remodeling and renovations industry, all we used to have to do was drop $5,000-$7,000.00 on a prime spot in our local Yellow Pages and.....boom, that was our advertising budget for the entire year.

Why wouldn't you? It was delivered directly to every home and used by virtually anyone who had a telephone and a need. Even better, they would advertise on television, reminding people to "Let Your Fingers Do The Walking".

It was the proverbial gift that kept on giving!

...well, that is until AT&T sold its majority share of the phone book away back in 2012, admitting it was a "dwindling asset".
Sorry Old Yeller, say hello to the new phone book... it's called the Search Engine.

Jump forward to today and now we're all looking to find ways to get those Search Engines to post results related to our businesses.

One asset that seems to do well is YouTube. I post videos to YouTube all the time (usually embarrassing myself in the process) and they tend to rank well in Google search results, which is great for my business.
I'm fairly certain that Google just can't deny the sheer awesomeness of an up-and-coming film maker like myself, but someone pointed out the fact that Google owns YouTube probably didn't hurt either.

Please.... hater.

On my quest for film-making glory, I kept seeing videos pop up from a different source and decided it was time to take a better look at the another video-hosting website... Vimeo.

The first thing I noticed, with the help of my super secret-squirrel SEO tools, is that this was also a PR9 ranked website, just like YouTube. Can't do much better than that on the Google PageRank scale.

I also noticed it was pretty well laid out and user friendly. Another added benefit I realized, after a few uploads, is that it wasn't nearly as restrictive as YouTube had been to me in the past. Sometimes, I use a Creative Commons License bed of music in my videos and YouTube makes me jump through hoops before I can post the video.
Vimeo was interesting enough that I decided a real head-to-head challenge was in order.
So, without further adieu...

Vimeo vs. YouTube, let the battle begin!

I made a short video about an entryway remodeling project we recently did. I posted that video up to both YouTube and Vimeo to see how they would act in organic searches.

First off, I performed my pre-search ritual. I cleared my browsers History, Cache, Cookies, Site Preferences and set the search region for the United States. That means my search results aren't just competing against a local market, they are competing against the entire country for SERP (Search Engine Results Page).

Results always have thousands of pages but I don't care very much about anything other than the first page. Research has shown many times over that most people don't look much past the very first page of results.

The Golden Globe nominated video I uploaded was titled "Entryway Transformation" (Hey... a boy can dream, can't he?)
That was about 5 days ago, let's try typing those exact words into Google and see what comes up.


Well would you look at that!  

My Vimeo video came up as the #2 result on the very first page and it's only been up for five days! (...and you laughed when I said Golden Globes).

Can't argue with those SEO results.

Hey, I wonder where my YouTube upload of the very same video ranked?

Let's find out...


There it is, halfway down the second page. Still, not bad!
But, as we've learned... most people don't make it to the second page when they are searching, especially if the first page gives them what they are looking for.

How that happens is Google's biggest secret and why we are always chasing the elusive formula (algorithm) of exactly how they rank results.




So what conclusions can I draw from this?

  • First of all, my biggest conclusion was that I managed to target a few keywords in my video title that were seemingly open to rank well. I'm sure if I had named this video "Remodeling an entryway",  I probably would have had a tougher time ranking well for a more competitive keyword like "remodeling" across the country. Then again, I did show how a local companay beat out HGTV and This Old House for that same word the other day. Maybe that's another experiment.

  • The second conclusion that I made was that Vimeo seems to be beating YouTube in Google's search engine results for the identical keywords. Mind you, the YouTube result has a much cooler tiny video preview window that makes the listing really stand out. I guess you have to expect that sort of enhancement when Google owns one of the products and not the other. But, I am surprised that Google didn't seem to favor it's own product in this particular case. 

  • My final conclusion was this: I think need to start posting more videos on Vimeo. Not just post relevant videos, but with equally relevant keywords in the titles. The cool thing is that not only can I post information in the video itself, but in the description area as well. (That's the perfect place for linking back to your own website, contact information and other blogs, projects, etc.)

Now all I need to do is figure out who to thank at the Golden Globes Awards ceremony. Shut up, it could happen.

Daniel Batal is the author and owner @ Focalpoint Renovations

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Did Google Lie To Us?

 Did Google lie to us about the EMD update?

Ah, the never-ending hunt for better Google SERP.
(That's 'Search Engine Results Page' for anyone who is unfamiliar)

Businesses and website owners are constantly trying to do all the right things that will get our websites right up on the first page of Google when someone types in any number of search words or phrases that  relate to what our websites are all about.

It used to be a lot easier before Google got a lot more savvy with their algorithm and began figuring out who was using tricks to get their pages to rank higher in these organic search results.

One of the things Google did was to target websites which had an EMD. If you don't know what an "EMD" is, it's an "Exact Match Domain". The idea was to put an end to lower grade sites that were ranking for search terms mostly because those keywords happen to exist in their domain name regardless of whether it provided the most useful and relevant information on the site itself.

Example: WWW. HISTORYBOOKS.COM used to come up quickly for the search terms "History books" but with this new update, those factors would mean much less than the actual content and relevance of the site itself.

Back in March 2011, Google's Matt Cutts warned viewers in a video that brandable domains tended to be the way to go. He said at the time:
“Now if you're still on the fence, let me just give you a bit of color, that we have looked at the rankings and the weights that we give to keyword domains, and some people have complained that we're giving a little too much weight for keywords in domains, and so we have been thinking about adjusting that mix a little bit and sort of turning the knob down within the algorithm, so that given two different domains it wouldn't necessarily help you as much to have a domain with a bunch of keywords in it.”
In October, 2012, they did exactly that with the launch of the EMD update.

But did that Google update really put an end to the advantage of the EMD?

Let me give you an example of why it not only didn't seem to kill the EMD, but it actually seemed to strengthen it.


I was recently doing research to see how my competition was ranking and what I could learn from it (I own a renovations company in New Hampshire, so I was using the largest surrounding markets for comparison)

Here was something I found that completely shocked me.

In my industry, one of the harder words to rank for is "remodeling". Of course, my industry keywords aren't as commonly searched as some other industries' keywords, but there is pretty stiff competition to rank for them, nonetheless.

So, imagine my surprise when I found that the #1 ranked website (after the paid listings) for the keyword "remodeling" when search in the Boston, MA area was "www.".  (Yes, I put a space in there because there is NO way I'm giving them any more power than they already seem to wield).

remodeling website search results

I should explain that before I do any of these searches, I log off of my Google account and do a complete history, cache, cookies and preferences erase. I want to make sure none of my personal preferences or past searches are being taken into account when I perform a  fresh search.

At first glance, it sure looked like this was one of those EMD websites that we heard were taken care of so I naturally assumed they must have quite a website beyond just their domain name to be ranking so high.

This is what I found when I clicked on their site:

remodeling website

Pretty simple stuff as far as websites go. Certainly not the high tech website I expected to be crushing mine in the Boston market.

Well, we all know it's not about the look as much as it is the performance. So, two of the things we do know are really important are Content and Backlinks.

Let's start with the Content. Well, let me rephrase that.  I would start with their content but... I couldn't find any.
I was able to find a one page description of how they handled 'Renovation Planning' but there was no blog, no articles or insights... nothing.

Certainly they must have a lot of articles posted on other reputable sites linking back to them?
That's what I thought until I used a few online backlink checkers to see if maybe they had some strong backlinks that I could take advantage of as well.
Here's what I found using a fairly common online backlink checker (

home improvement search results

Wait.... ONE backlink??

How is this possible? It must be a fluke... right? I thought the same thing but no matter which program I used to discover their backlinks, there just weren't any significant backlinks to be found. I could see they were affected by the same Panda, Penguin, Pigeon and other animal-named-Google-update-rank-killers that a lot of us were. The few backlinks they used to have had flatlined into non-existence yet... there they still stand, top of the heap.

What I noticed next made me pull even more hair out. (Fortunately, I have quite a bit)

Look who is ranked #3... WWW. REMODELBOSTON.COM!

Another almost Exact Match Domain?!

I know what you're thinking, "Hey Daniel, did you happen to check out their content or how many phenomenal backlinks this magical site has?"

Why, yes I did!

They had three times as many backlinks! (*ahem* the first site had one, they have three. I'm really exceptional at this kind of math)

remodeling search results

Oh, and just for fun... take a look at who they are beating in the Boston marketplace for first page Google SERP using the search term "remodeling"... just some other slackers named HGTV .COM and THISOLDHOUSE .COM!

local website beats hgtv and this old house

Can it honestly still be so simple that as long as your website has anything to do with the subject that your Exact Match Domain name refers to, you still have a huge advantage over your competition?

Listen, I'm sure there is a very logical and rational explanation as to why these sites seem to defy the very logic almost every "SEO guru" has told us or even the overt hints that Matt Cutts has given us about the most important things being 'Providing fresh, relevant content and staying involved in the global conversation'.

If that's so, then I have a "global conversation" of my own I'd like to start; I invite any and all comments from my readers to help me figure out why these websites are still ranking so high!

FYI:  If I don't answer right away... it's because I'm busy registering my new home improvement website domain, WWW. RemodelingRenovationHomeImprovementConstructionUSA.COM.

Daniel Batal owner of Focalpoint Renovations

Daniel Batal is the owner @ Focalpoint Renovations

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Ugly Entryway Gets A Facelift

Here we go again! Check out this entryway transformation...

We encourage you to stop by our website to see our other  remodeling and renovations projects!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

How To Install Slip-on Grips, Harley Davidson

This article is not for those riders who think everything worth buying comes from (and is installed by) a Harley Davidson dealership. This is directed at those old school cropper, choppers & bobbers like me who do whatever they want to their bikes, whenever and however they want to.

That being said... *ahem*

Today I'm venturing even further off of the path that we've beaten at Focalpoint Renovations (if that's even possible at this point).
On a one night get-away trek to Laconia, New Hampshire's Bike Week event this year, I picked up a pair of chrome slip-on grip covers. I later discovered that the installation requires a minute of attention that, surprisingly, I couldn't find readily available via search engines.

So...I decided to post one.

 How To Install Slip-on Grips, Harley Davidson

FYI: There are two types of grip replacements... The more expensive requires you to open the throttle assembly and reconnect the throttle linkage into the new grips. Not particularly difficult but, what we're covering here is the more cost effective versions that in this case require you to cut the stock rubber grip away from the throttle for installation.

I found an aftermarket pair  that closely resembles the Drag Specialites Razor grip (which run about $110.00) up here in Laconia for $25.00/pair but only if you’re willing to take a razor knife to your stock rubber grips. If reading that scares you, you should probably stick with what you have or pay a dealer to swap your grips.

First things first... KNOW YOUR HANDLEBAR WIDTH. Most stock Harleys tend to run either 1" or 1 1/4". Mine is a '93 XLH 1200 which has a set non-original set of 1" bars (Thank you Chop Shop!). You obviously want to buy a set of grips that will fit over your existing handlebar size. Also, there are two sides to a set of bars, one being the stagnant (non-operational) on the left side and the throttle (operational) grip on the right.

The left is the easiest. 

Depending on the grip adhesive used, you can most likely twist off your existing grip with little effort. The factory adhesive isn't designed to weld the grip on, only hold it there securely. Using a steady force, it can be twisted off by working it back and forth while pulling outward. Installing the new grip requires little more brain power than doing the opposite. I cleaned my bars of residue and used a small amount of 100% clear silicone sealant to adhere the new grip. There are lots of grip adhesives so this is a bit of 'pick your poison'.

The throttle grip, on the other hand, is a little more of a pain-in-the-butt. Start by closing the petcock from your gas tank, twisting the throttle even when the bike is off can allow fuel into a carburetor. I have to admit that I should have taken more pictures during the removal process but all I did was to slice the original rubber grip 5 or 6 times lengthwise and pull it back towards the farthest point of the handlebar using vise grips. A utility knife helped cut away the rubber from the inner, harder plastic throttle core. Think of it like peeling the toughest banana you've ever encountered.
I removed the original rubber grip and then carefully scraped most of the excess with a sharp utility blade. Once I had most of the rubber grip off, it was pretty easy. 
It will look like this:

Before you start scraping, another important note is that there are ridges along the length of the inner throttle that allow the grip to maintain adhesion when you twist on it (accelerate). Below is the same image with one of the ridges circled in red. If you use a blade to clean the throttle like I did, try not to scrape those ridges off so that the new grip has something to grab onto.

Does that picture still look a little yucky to you?

Same here, but I also tried not to let my O.C.D. kick in too much while removing the original excess rubber and glue because I figured those lumps would actually help hold the new grip in place (which it did).
I just wanted to make sure the new grip slid on securely so, I used a 50/50 mix of dish soap and water to lubricate the new grip and slid it on a few times along the way for a test fit.
That's fairly important as well. You don't want to adhere a new slip-on grip without making sure it fits the way you want it to. Once I had it where I wanted it... I cleaned and dried both surfaces of throttle and grip and applied a small amount of 100% silicone sealant along the surface of the throttle, slowly twisting the new grip up into position and carefully making sure that no extra oozed its way out.

I let it set up overnight without touching it and....viola.

So, there you have it. A cost effective alternative to some of the more expensive Harley Davidson grips on the market.
Feel free to add any of your own personal experiences in the comments section below and try to remember to keep the rubber side down!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Can I Tile Over Hardwood Flooring?

We ran into this situation on a recent project and it seemed like a good time to talk about it.

Even though personally I would rather listen to Miley Cyrus talk about politics than to allow anyone tile over hardwood, the long and short of the answer is yes, you can.
The real question is; Why would you want to?
You have to remember that the same rules apply for tiling over hardwood as do for tiling over any suitable substrate.
Let me illustrate:

 Ceramic tile over hardwood flooring

This is a picture from one of our jobs where ceramic tile had been installed over 2 1/4" oak flooring. We discovered it when removing the tile to install an updated tile.

ceramic tile over hardwood flooringAs you can see, the tiles came up with little of the thinset mortar still attached to the floor. This is a perfect example of a poor bond. When we look at the tiles themselves, you can see that the thinset had no problem staying attached to the back of the tile.

After the tile had been completely removed from the area, this is what the floor looked like with no major scraping.

hardwood flooring under ceramic tile

Barely any real adhesion had occurred.

So let's talk about these "rules" for tile installation. There are three very important things you always want to be aware of when you are installing a tile floor.

Rule #1: Motion is your enemy. 

Anytime you install a tile floor, you want the surface you are tiling over to have minimal motion. If a floor moves, tiles can loose their bond and/or crack along with the grout lines.

Things that may cause your wood-frame floor to move:

  1. Undersized framing: Older homes may have been built smaller framing than code currently requires. It bounces and flexes more than the beefier framing of today.                                                                                           
  2. Wider framing layout:  Another situation we often find in older homes is that the framing is wider than 16" on center. This forces the subfloor to span a longer distance and allows it to flex more than in a newer home.                                                                                                                                               
  3. Unsuitable subfloor sheathing: In older homes you may find wide plank floor boards, newer homes usually require 3/4" plywood as their subfloor. When it comes to installing tile, the rule of thumb is to have at LEAST 1 1/4" of subfloor sheathing underneath to provide the necessary strength. That means that if you have 3/4" plywood, you need to add another 1/2" layer of substrate over it to create a thick enough subfloor (always run additional plywood layers in the opposite direction of the previous for added strength). I like to fasten additional layers with 1 1/4" galvanized screws at 6" on center, 2 1/2" screws along the framing lines. This gives the entire floor frame every opportunity to lock itself together tightly.                                                                                                 
  4. Improper fastening: Sometimes the subfloor is not properly anchored to the framing and can move which can result in tile bond failure. Don't be afraid to dance around on your subfloor before you tile. Spreading your legs apart and leaning side to side like your trying to tip a boat over is an easy way to spot creaks and squeaks which can often be cured with additional fasteners.
Plank (hardwood) flooring is more susceptible to motion because there are many more individual pieces which can (and will) expand and contract at different rates. The only way to minimize this is to make sure the hardwood flooring is fastened as securely to the subfloor as possible. This means you'll need to nail through the face of the flooring to make sure it has the best chance of staying in place.

Rule #2: Surface must be clean for a strong bond.

Hardwood flooring is usually finished with some form of polyurethane. The nature of this finish will tend to reject things that are trying to bond to it (including your tile adhesive). To tile over hardwood, you'd need to clean it first, preferably with mineral spirits to remove any build up you may have on the surface. Any waxes or soap that have been used to maintain the floor over the years will leave a build-up that is awful for adhesion.
Sanding the floor with a low grit sand paper (30 grit or lower) would create a better bonding surface. Rough wood makes for a much better adhesion. Also, the less porous a substrate is, the harder it will be for thinset to bond to. Another reason a finished hardwood floor isn't the best candidate for tile installation.

The natural surface of cdx plywood provides a rougher more porous surface to allow thinset to adhere to.

Rule #3: Use a premium modified Thinset mortar 

This is extremely important.  All your other steps will be for nothing if you don't use a high grade latex/polymer modified thinset mortar. These modifier additives help improve the bonding and flex characteristics of the mortar. You can purchase liquid additives though I've found the high end, pre-mixed powders have excellent bonding strength when properly applied. Make sure you don't mix your thinset too dry. A drier mix can have poor adhesion. You're looking for a consistency somewhere between pudding and peanut butter.

In conclusion: Why we don't recommend tiling over hardwood

Having read the steps it would take to even consider hardwood flooring as a suitable surface, it's usually just easier to remove and replace it with a decent cdx plywood or cementitious backerboard substrate. The grain of cdx plywood is perfect for creating a long lasting floor tile bond. There are those that would say using a tile backer board is preferable but when it comes to floors, I still prefer to put down a material with the ability to carry more weight. Although backer board has excellent moisture resistant qualities, I can snap most backer boards without a lot of effort. Backer board is much better suited for non-traffic tile installation in moisture heavy areas such as shower stall walls or counter tops in my opinion.

So in conclusion; Follow the three steps for any tile installation, don't tile over your hardwood because it's just silly and always remember to floss! (That has nothing to do with flooring but my 8 year old son can't seem to remember to do it so, I find myself constantly saying it.)

Do you have a flooring nightmare project on your plate? Drop us a line in the comments below and we'll see if we can help! 

Home-Improvement blog