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HOME IMPROVEMENT : Fake Products Can Offer Real Quality --and Savings

December 21, 1991|JOHN MORELL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

And you thought that the Joneses next door had come into some money.

You didn't know that the expensive slate roof they added on is fake, the marble kitchen countertops phony, or that the beautiful new front door they installed has less wood than a toothpick.

It's time you learn about fake products that masquerade as something more expensive, but are often more durable than the real thing.

In much of the county's new construction, roofs that appear to be clay tile are actually composed of concrete that's been shaped and dyed to look like clay.

"The tile companies have introduced a lightweight concrete tile that weighs about one-third less than the usual concrete tiles," says Evelyn Nealy of SG Wholesale Roofing Supplies in Santa Ana. "These are becoming competitive with clay since they're lighter, which means that a roof structure may not have to be reinforced."

While concrete tile roofs come with warranties that range from 35 to 50 years, a long life depends on two crucial factors: "The 'underlayment,' which is the asphalt-saturated felt on which the tiles are placed, must have a rating of at least 30 pounds, and it has to be installed correctly to prevent leakage," Nealy says.

"You also have to make sure you don't have a great deal of activity on the roof," she adds. "Concrete, clay or synthetic roofs are not made to be walked on, and if you have to go up there to change solar heating panels or do other maintenance work, you risk damaging the tiles."

Concrete tiles are also made to look like slate and, surprisingly, wood shake. "The slate and shake tiles are made the same shape and color," Nealy says. "The only difference is that the slate-like tiles are smooth, while the ones that look like shakes have a brushed or wood-like texture."

If you're considering replacing your shake roof with concrete tile, you might want to consult with a roofing contractor to see if your roof structure can handle the added weight, and whether you'd be better off with lightweight tiles. You also might check with your homeowners insurance agent to see if you can get a reduction in your premium for installing fireproof roofing materials.

Inside the home are other impostors. Although they've only been around for about 20 years, solid surfacing materials, commonly used as kitchen and bath countertops, are seen in many homes. Known by brand names such as Corian, Avonite and Surell, solid surfacing is made of polyester or acrylic resins that are given distinctive colors and patterns. While you can order almost any color or design, it's popular to get solid surfacing that looks like granite or marble.

Installing solid surfacing is usually a job best left to a professional. A solid surfacing fabricator will help you select the design of your countertops, cut them to fit in the workshop, and install them in your kitchen or bath. Basically, the solid surface is about three-quarters of an inch thick, with thinner sheets being used for back splashes. Fabricators can also make a matching sink to continue the look of the countertops.

"Avonite makes surfaces that look extremely similar to granite and marble," says Linda Graves of Olive Mill, a solid surface fabricator in Anaheim. "Plus, it's easier to work with and it's usually cheaper than granite or marble."

Although a granite or marble solid surface look-alike is easy to clean and maintain (most scratches can be rubbed out with a nylon scouring pad), they are not indestructible. Homeowners who use them in place of cutting boards may find deep cuts unrepairable, and an accidental spill of drain cleaner could make a serious burn in your faux granite countertop.

"These don't provide you with as hard a surface as granite," Graves says. "But the fact that they can be polished to look like new makes them appealing."

Probably one of the most abused parts of your home is the garage door, which must endure not only the outdoor climate but countless openings and closings as well. If you want the look of a wood garage door but the wear of steel, modern steel sectional doors can be ordered that have a wood-like grain and are primered to match your exterior paint.

"The great advantage of a steel door is it's not likely to warp like a wood door," says Bill Brozzoski of Moore Overhead Door in Anaheim. "Over time, wood will also need more painting and maintenance during its life."

You can find steel doors insulated with polystyrene that will help keep the weather outside. And even when insulated, steel sectionals are about one-quarter the weight of a comparable wood door. "This puts less strain on your garage door opener," Brozzoski says. "And as a wood door gets older and more warped, it will tend to get heavier."

Steel is not without its detriments--a good quality steel door can be double the cost of wood, it has to be examined periodically for deep scratches that have to be repainted before rust sets in, and it can be permanently dented if it's bumped by your car or run into by a children's bicycle. However, if you intend to live at your address for some time, a steel door may be worth checking out.

Manufacturers use similar technology to build entry doors that have the look of wood and the strength of steel. The doors can be finished with any kind of paint normally used for wood, and their insulating qualities are substantial. A wood door generally has an insulation value of R-3, but steel doors are rated up to R-15.

When ordering, measurements for a steel entry door must be exact. Steel doors are pre-hung in a frame since planing the door to give it more clearance is out of the question. Impostors do have some limitations.

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