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Which Counter Is Tops For You?
When it comes to choosing the right countertop for your home, the selection can be a little overwhelming. Apart from the aesthetics element, you also have to select the kind of material your counter will be made of. This comes down to a question of function, budget, and personal taste. The four key types of countertops available today are granite, quartz, solid-surface, and laminate (also known as postform).
 
Granite is quarried in large blocks taken directly from the earth, and these blocks are then cut into slabs for your countertops. Because it is a naturally occurring stone, the design and colours will never be uniform (the aesthetics of this appeal to some homeowners, while others like a less varying look), meaning the sample you base your selection on in the store will not perfectly match the stone you receive for your countertops, and the seams where two parts of your counter meet up will be visible (matching the veins and patterns in two different pieces of granite is practically impossible). While you can get less costly pieces of granite, it is important that you get thick slabs as the thicker the piece, the stronger it is. Granite tends to be the more expensive choice for countertops, however you can recoup much of that cost in the re-sale value of your home. Barring any unusual occurrences, granite can stand up to normal countertop wear-and-tear for a lifetime and is completely heat-resistant and almost totally scratch-resistant. It is a naturally porous stone however, so it does need to be sealed once a year to prevent it from staining or absorbing bacteria which can then be transferred to you and your food. You must hire a trained professional to install granite countertops, so be sure to budget for this if you opt for granite.
 
quartzcounterQuartz is an extremely durable choice for countertops, being composed of approximately 93% crushed quartz (a hard mineral that forms in clusters), and 7% resin. It is one of the hardest materials there is, and it is scratch, heat, and bacteria-resistant. It's available in a wide selection of colours and patterns, which varies depending on the colourant and how coarsely the quartz is crushed. A non-porous surface, this countertop will never have to be sealed and can easily be cleaned with a cloth and soap. Because the design can be controlled during manufacturing, seams can be rendered almost invisible on a quartz countertop. Quartz is more flexible than granite, so while you will still need to hire a professional to install it, the installation process is easier than it is with granite. It is important to note that direct sunlight can cause discolouration in quartz countertops over time, so be aware of this when making your selection.
 
Man-made solid-surface countertops are less expensive than quartz, and the installation process is also easier. Though they lack the heat and scratch-resistance of granite and quartz, scratches can easily be sanded out and repaired. It's important that scratches are fixed, as they can provide a dangerous breeding ground for harmful bacteria. Completely seamless and non-porous, barring scratches these are totally bacteria-resistant, making them an extremely safe food prep surface. Available in countless styles and colours, you also have the option of bullnose edges, meaning the counter edges can be rounded in a variety of ways, depending on which design you prefer. These rounded finishes can increase visual appeal, help prevent bacteria growth, and are safer in terms of preventing injury if bumped into. Unlike the glossy surface of stone countertops, solid-surface is matte, with uniform colouring and design.
 
laminatecounterLaminate countertops are easy to clean, maintain, and install (a skilled DIYer can totally install these!). The least expensive of the four options we've discussed, these countertops are still a durable, man-made option and they are a very popular choice in many households. They are not heat resistant and scratches are not easy to repair, but they are non-porous, so undamaged laminate countertops provide a clean surface for cooking. Seams are visible, but the selection of colours, patterns, finishes, and designs are seemingly endless. Manufacturers can now even print wood and stone patterns into laminate, so the counters can look just about any way you want. Because of the budget-friendly pricing of laminate countertops, these can easily be updated if you want to refresh your kitchen without breaking the bank.
 
Whichever countertops you choose, make sure they are properly installed and follow user guidelines. This will greatly extend the life of your countertop and ensure that you get the best return on your investment. With the many options now available, the countertops that suit your style and budget are just waiting for you to bring them home.
 

Originally Published by The Chronicle Herald

 

Alexandra Kelter

Alexandra Kelter is a social media specialist with Central Home Improvements. Her column covers many aspects of home improvement, both indoor and outdoor, and will combine trending styles with practical applications all within realistic budgets. Kelter is also passionate about fashion, travel, living by the ocean and her bulldog.
 

 
Asphalt Maintenance Why When & How
Although asphalt driveways are not the most exciting topic, they are an important but easily overlooked part of regular home maintenance. Keeping your driveway in good shape will let you continue to take it for granted, so let's look at what need to be done.
 
Filling cracks and sealing your driveway are the maintenance you can expect to do. The first step is debris removal. Pull any grass or weeds growing up through driveway cracks and trim away any grass growing close to the sides. If you have any stains, like gas or oil spills, clean them with a mild soap (Dawn is great for removing oil). If you leave the stains, they will show through your new sealer. The next step is to sweep any debris off of your driveway. Using a crack sealer, fill any fissures, cracks or holes that have started in the asphalt. Follow the instructions on the crack sealer for best results. Once it has set, hose down your driveway to remove any remaining dirt or debris. If you use a power washer, use a fan-type nozzle and avoid washing over the newly-filled areas. Allow your driveway to dry for 24 hours before sealing.
 
sealingdriveway3 Summer is a great time to seal your driveway because the hot sun will cause the seal to dry faster. Early fall is also a good time (before the leaves fall) as it will protect your driveway from the encroaching winter. You need a sunny day to apply your seal and it has to stay dry for at least 24 hours after completion, so check the weather forecast before you begin. The seal will cure fastest in hot weather, but it's miserable work to do under a blazing summer sun, so apply it in the morning before the day reaches its peak heat and then your driveway has the day to set. Keep everything off the driveway for approximately 24 hours after you're done.
 
For sealing your driveway, you need to first select a sealer. Coal tar and acrylic are the two most popular options. Coal-tar is a popular choice that has been around for a very long time. It's weather resistant and has that long-lasting black sheen to it. It has to be re-applied every 3 years or when it is aesthetically required, whichever comes first. Acrylic sealers are a relatively new option. Extremely durable, they provide a great barrier between your asphalt and things that will damage it, like oil, gasoline and the elements. Acrylic sealers are the most environmentally friendly choice, and though they are more expensive, they only need to be reapplied every six years or so, so in the end, they are not only environmentally friendly, but also the most economical option!
 
While you should always follow the directions on the sealer packaging, the gist of the application process is that starting at the top of your driveway, pour enough sealer to cover a 4ft x 4ft area. asphalt-driveway Using a specially designed type of broom or a driveway roller, spread the sealer into a smooth, even square. Do this until you reach the bottom of your driveway. Be sure to smooth out the edges for the nicest finish. Clean your equipment with soap and water, and be sure to wear sturdy work gloves throughout the process.
 
Try to repair cracks as they appear, as when water gets into them then freezes and thaws it can quickly cause damage throughout your driveway, meaning you'll need to totally fill and re-seal it instead of just some simple crack filling.
 
A well-groomed driveway will prevent your vehicles from being damaged by large cracks and potholes in it, and adds greatly to the curb appeal of your property. Maintain your driveway regularly, and you'll receive a pleasing return on your investment.

 


Originally Published by The Chronicle Herald - August 7, 2014

 

Alexandra Kelter

Alexandra Kelter is a social media specialist with Central Home Improvements. Her column covers many aspects of home improvement, both indoor and outdoor, and will combine trending styles with practical applications all within realistic budgets. Kelter is also passionate about fashion, travel, living by the ocean and her bulldog.
 

 
Keeping Your Summer Bright
During the warmer months, most of us tend to use our outdoor spaces at night in addition to in the day. Not much beats sitting on your patio in the evenings after work, or having your friends round for a barbecued dinner and hours of good conversation under the stars. Because you'll be using this part of your home in the dark though, you need to provide lighting, both for safety and aesthetics.
 
solarlightsgarden When planning how you'll light up your outdoor space, start by taking a walk around it in the daylight. Make note of special features in your garden that you may want to accentuate, such as a water fountain or a special flowerbed. Consider your home and if there are any architectural features you may want to draw attention to on the exterior. It's also important that you consider safety; pathways, driveways, and other places where people will walk in the dark need to be illuminated at night to prevent injury. And finally, don't forget to consider ambience! How will you be using these different outdoor areas? What kind of mood do you want the lighting to help set?
 
You also need to consider what type of lighting you need and want. The range of outdoor lighting products now available is extensive, offering different kinds of lighting and varying greatly in appearance (both the lights themselves and the result of their projected light).
 
Uplighting is when you place lights, such as well, bullet and wash lights, low to the ground, placed in such a way so that their light goes upwards, illuminating a specific object, such as a house feature or garden structure. This is recommended when you want to accentuate the structure of your home, draw attention to a tree (this helps prevent guests from accidentally walking into one!), or to put a bit of a spotlight on a particular feature in your garden.
 
Downlighting is usually placed in a tree (if you do this, be sure to uplight the trunk too) or on a part of our home, such as the peek of an eaves, to shine down on whatever it's above, such as your lawn, a pathway, or even the tree it's in (this can create a romantic, dreamy look). Because of the hard-to-reach location of this type of lighting, go with durable light fixtures and LED lightbulbs; you don't want to be climbing up there on a regular basis to replace them!
 
These two types of lighting require a low-voltage system, meaning they're running off of your home's power, but at a reduced current thanks to a transformer. You can install them yourself with careful research, or you can hire a professional. The latter is recommended if you have never done this before, or if you're starting from scratch and need to add light to your whole property. A professional is very knowledgeable about what kind of lighting to use where, and they'll ensure everything is installed safely. When it comes to your home's electrics, you don't want to take any chances.
 
solarlights For low-maintenance lighting that you can easily install yourself, look to solar lighting. Available in a plethora of styles and designs, these lights collect energy from the sun's rays during the day, storing it to be used at night. Because they don't connect to a power source, there are no cords or major installation required. As long as you place them where the sun can reach them, they'll shine! These are great for adding soft but handy lighting to a walkway, shining down on your flowerbeds to showcase your green thumb, adding light to your outdoor table for eating, and adding ambiance to your outdoor space. Solar lights are available in many decorative styles, so they also add some art to your outdoor space (art which will look lovely in the day or night!).
 
With any outdoor lighting, be conscious of whether it is shining in at your neighbours, or how it's beaming into your own home. You want to light up your summer evenings, but in a way that is respectful and considerate to those around you.
 
Just as with a room in your home, you design your outdoor spaces, and lighting plays a significant role in the end result. Keep your summer shining in safety and style!

 


Originally Published by The Chronicle Herald - June 26, 2014

 

Alexandra Kelter

Alexandra Kelter is a social media specialist with Central Home Improvements. Her column covers many aspects of home improvement, both indoor and outdoor, and will combine trending styles with practical applications all within realistic budgets. Kelter is also passionate about fashion, travel, living by the ocean and her bulldog.
 

 
Grilling Days Are Here
It's grilling season (let's all take a minute to give thanks for the months of grilled ribs, burgers, and steaks coming our way), and that means it's time to talk barbecues.
Barbecues have come a long way and there are now a ton of styles and varieties for you to choose from. There has been a noticeable shift in the market where buyers are now tending towards mid-to-high end grills, indicative of the fact that people are viewing their barbecue as an investment.
 
Barbecues can be broken down into two main categories of charcoal and gas (there are portable versions of both available). Gas grills tend to cost more than charcoal grills because they usually offer a wider range of features, cooking options, and burners. That being said, they run off of propane (or are connected to a natural gas line) which is less expensive to purchase than charcoal, and the fuel tends to last longer (or will not need to be replaced at all if connected to a gas line).

charcoalgrillA charcoal grill requires approximately 30 to 40 minutes of prep time before you can cook, and is a little more complicated to get going than the flick of a switch on a gas grill. Both barbecues will require regular cleaning, especially the grates. There are pros and cons to both options. When making your selection, consider your budget, the size of your outdoor space, and how you’ll be using your barbecue (if you like to grill daily, enjoy making some less traditional foods on the barbecue like pizza, or tend to host larger get-togethers where you fire up the barbie, gas is for you; if you’re short on space or revel in playing with smoky, complex flavours in more traditional grilled foods like steak and burgers, you’ll have a lot of fun with a charcoal model).
 
Infrared barbecues are one of the sizzling (no pun intended) new items on the grilling market. They use less fuel than traditional barbecues, have a particular aptitude for searing meats, and are credited with cooking food faster and more evenly. Hybrid infrared grills are starting to crop up, with a barbecue having infrared burners on one end and traditional convection burners on the other. This is ideal for you chefs who like to sear your steak while grilling your vegetables. SteaksontheGrillGrates are one of the most important features of a barbecue as this is what the food actually cooks on. Higher quality grates are strongly recommended as lower quality ones will need to be replaced regularly (making them more costly in the long run), and tend to yield less satisfying results in how you grill as well as the cooked food itself. Stainless steel is non-stick and easy to clean (scrub in hot, soapy water, dry, then rub down with vegetable oil).

Porcelain-coated grates tend to hold heat very well, however they can chip then rust, so be sure to avoid hard metal scrapers and tools. Cast iron grills last for decades when properly cared for, keep their temperature the longest and cook food the fastest, but it’s imperative that you properly clean and oil these grates or they will deteriorate quickly.
 
When it comes to your barbecue, do some research to find out which style suits your needs, and don’t be shy about talking to an in-store associate while shopping. They tend to be very knowledgeable about the different models and accessories and can give you some great information. Make sure that you clean and care for your barbecue as indicated by the manufacturer. Great warranties are the norm nowadays, so as long as you treat your grill right, you’ll have it for a long time. Have fun and be safe when grilling this summer, and if you need someone to test those delicious ribs you just barbecued, I’m always happy to volunteer!


Originally Published by The Chronicle Herald

 

Alexandra Kelter

Alexandra Kelter is a social media specialist with Central Home Improvements. Her column covers many aspects of home improvement, both indoor and outdoor, and will combine trending styles with practical applications all within realistic budgets. Kelter is also passionate about fashion, travel, living by the ocean and her bulldog.