Check out CAD before taking on renovations

One of the more important new developments for homeowners planning to remodel or renovate is the growing use of in-home "computer assisted design" programs that help visualize what a finished project will look like.

Computer assisted design, as it relates to homeowners, was first put into play by manufacturers wanting to show how their building products and materials might look on a home. Architects also used it to speed up designs and blueprints.

More recently, computer assisted design began appearing as a staple in kitchen and bath showrooms and in "big box" home center stores as a slick and useful on-site planning and sales tool. It has just taken another quantum leap forward, right into our living rooms.

Contractors of all types are fast replacing armloads of product samples and color swatches with notebook computers, digital cameras and state-of-the-art software that can show customers what products, materials and colors will look like on their specific home.

One such program, created by the Canadian company Renoworks, in Calgary, Alberta, specializes in "visualization tools" for remodeling and renovation.

Here's how it works: A contractor coming to your home begins by taking a photograph of the house and transferring it into a notebook computer.

With a few clicks and commands, you can see your home on the screen as it is now - and, as you watch, as a process called "masking" begins. The image takes on various hues of color where specific products would be applied, such as on your existing siding or roof.

You can suggest products and colors, and see how they'd look on your home. Best of all, you can make instant changes, without a hammer and a crowbar. With a click, sky blue changes to forest green, sleek siding becomes sturdy brick, and whole-house changes take place right before your eyes.

Today's better programs include many products and finishes to give the consumer a wide array of choices. Want white plantation shutters on the interior of your dining room windows? Use the visualization tool to compare styles, colors and textures of available window treatments. Want to add new windows or luxurious double entry doors? You can see how they might look, in different colors, or with etched glass side light panels, for example.

Once you've tried design visualization, choosing from a glossy color brochure, tiny samples and color swatches may never be quite good enough again.

While there is no substitute for seeing, touching and feeling textures and finishes, design visualization does provide a peek at what the finished product will look like.

And another nice feature: Once you've decided on specific products and colors, the designer or contractor can print a high-quality photo image of what the completed home project will look like before you ever say "yes."

Planning a remodeling or renovation project has never been easier. And, maybe, never more fun. Next time you're planning to add a fresh coat of paint, replace your roof, add siding or install new windows, just ask your designer or contractor if they can help you "visualize" your plans with this wonderful tool.

For more home improvement tips and information, visit www.onthehouse.com or call (800) 737-2474, ext. 59.

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