We’re getting into the time of year when the electric bill makes you cringe. When it arrives in the mail, a cold sweat might break out. You may need to sit down because the knees are feeling weak. And all that happens before you actually open it!
But all is not lost. There are ways to stay warm and keep your hands off the thermostat. Here are five ideas for making it happen
1. When the sun comes out, open your blinds and let those rays in. They can warm the house. On the flip side, cover the windows when it’s dark to help keep cold air out.
2. Let’s do some detective work. Light a candle and hold the flame near your windows. If you see it flicker, it could mean an air leak. That means hot air going out and cold air coming in. Buy some inexpensive caulking and seal up those leaks. If new windows are in your future, make sure to save up and pay cash, and only do that if the quick fixes are no longer doing the job.
3. Small changes on the thermostat make a big difference on what you pay. If you’re used to having the thermostat at 74 degrees, shave it down to 72. You’ll probably notice the lower heat bill before you notice two degrees.
4. If you do something that heats the house up, make that activity work for you. If you cook something in the oven, leave the door open after you turn it off to warm up the kitchen (watch out for the kids, though). If you take a shower, leave the door open so the steam flows into the other room. That’ll help with low winter humidity too!
And if you’re really committed..
5. Pick your favorite hot beverage and start drinking. The warmer you feel inside, the less work the heating unit will have to do. Prepare the hot chocolate or tea! Also, your wardrobe can help you stay warm. Get those socks, sweatpants and sweatshirts out!
If you’re looking to sell your home quickly and for top dollar, there are some lesser-known words that match the importance of the famous real estate phrase “location, location, location.” Those all-important words? Curb appeal.
As the saying goes, “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.” When people drive up and first see your house, you want them to think of it immediately as a home that has been maintained and well cared for.
“It’s you putting your best foot forward,” says Christy Biberich, owner of Christy B. Design in Los Angeles who appears on the HGTV show “Brother Vs. Brother.” “We do judge a book by its cover.”
While curb appeal gets buyers in the door, sellers who want to move their homes quickly need to take other steps. The strategy varies by neighborhood and market conditions, but staging a house to appeal to the maximum number of buyers can make difference in how fast the home sells.
“Every property is completely different,” says Cannon Christian, president of Renovation Realty in San Diego, a company that helps sellers make improvements designed to get them top dollar. “The little things that get people through the front door matter first.”
Obviously you don’t want to spend money that you won’t get back. Christian advises seeing what improvements house flippers are making in your neighborhood. Comparing the sales prices of, say, homes with older kitchens to homes with kitchens that have been updated is also a good idea. If you see about a $50,000 difference, a $25,000 remodel is likely a smart investment. If homes with original kitchens are fetching close to the same price as those with renovated ones, save your money, since sometimes “it also depends on how hot the market is,” Christian says.
You should also spend time scoping out the competition by viewing listings and photos of similar homes for sale and attending open houses in your neighborhood.
Once prospective buyers are inside your home, you want to make sure the entire house puts its best foot forward. That starts with cleaning and decluttering, two improvements that cost little money and provide a big return.
Next, focus on low-cost “transformative improvements,” Biberich says. “The No. 1 thing you can do is paint.” She advises using neutral tones, but that doesn’t have to mean just white and beige, as brown and cream are also safe choices.
Since every dollar counts, hold off on pet projects and only devote your time and money to renovations that’ll bring you a return. “If you’re looking to sell, do not do the improvements that you’ve always wanted to do,” Christian says.
At summer’s end, once school is back in session, many of us start looking forward to Halloween. It’s a holiday adults can enjoy as much as kids. But, homeowners do have one serious obligation on this fun night: If you expect trick-or-treaters, you must make sure the path to your door is a safe one.
Take no trips
Inevitably, some giddy ghosts and ghouls will race excitedly to your door. Be prepared. In the full light of day, inspect your lawn, driveway and front path for trip hazards like exposed tree roots, cracks in concrete or missing pavers. Make repairs where possible or, at the very least, cut off access to unsafe areas. Meanwhile, if you’ve decorated the front yard with decorations like light-up pumpkins and animated figures, relocate the electrical cords so they’re not in anyone’s way.
Light the way
Make sure the path to your house is bright enough for trick-or-treaters to approach safely. You don’t need to install a full suite of year-round landscape lighting simply to accommodate visitors on Halloween night. There are plenty of temporary and affordable options for illumination, from glow sticks to tea lights. And though it may seem more in keeping with the mood of this spooky night to switch off your porch light, it’s much safer — not to mention more inviting — to keep it on.
Resist flammable decor
Whether vandals or accidents are to blame, there are many more fires on Halloween than a typical October night, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Holiday decorations are often quite flammable, involving materials such as paper, hay and dried cornstalks. If you can’t resist adorning your home and yard with such potentially dangerous items, then be sure to keep them away from candles and other heat sources. If jack-o’-lanterns or luminaries figure into your celebrations, illuminate them using LED tea lights, not open flames.
Curb your dog
Chances are yours is a friendly dog. But if some Halloween costumes are so convincing as to be frightening to small children, those same getups could be equally disturbing to your pooch — particularly on such a high-energy night. It’s good sense to contain your dog in an indoor space that’s both comfortable and secure.
A festive parade of goblins and ghouls, princesses and superheroes will soon be marching to your house. Do your part by clearing the path and lighting the way. Be safe out there, and have a Happy Halloween!
Fall is just around the corner: Time to get your house in shape for the cooler months ahead. Although autumn can be one of the busiest seasons for homeowners preparing for winter, it’s also the best time to take advantage of the moderate weather to repair any damages before the first frost sets in. Here are some home maintenance ideas that will keep your home running in peak condition all winter long.
Check the foundation for cracks and caulk around the areas where masonry meets siding, where pipes or wires enter the house and around the windows and door frames to prevent heat from escaping. “Caulking and sealing openings is one of the least expensive maintenance jobs,” says Michael Hydeck, Hydeck Design Build, Inc., Telford, PA, and national president, National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI). “Openings in the structure can cause water to get in and freeze, resulting in cracks and mold buildup,” he says. “Regardless of whether you live in a cold or warm climate, winter can bring very harsh conditions resulting in water or ice damage. A careful check of the outside structure combined with inexpensive maintenance can save you money in the long run.”
Install storm windows and doors and remove screens. Before storing, clean and repair screens, spray with a protective coating and place in a dry area of the basement or garage.
Inspect exterior walls to see if any paint is peeling or blistering on the house or outbuildings. According to Carl Minchew, director, Benjamin Moore Paints, “Peeling paint is a sign that the existing paint film is failing and can no longer protect the siding of the building. Left uncorrected, the siding itself will deteriorate, leading to expensive repairs in the future.”
Make sure the roof is in good shape. Inspect for missing and loose shingles. “Ice, rain, snow and wind combined with rapidly changing temperatures and humidity wreak havoc on roofs,” says Jay Butch, director, contractor programs for CertainTeed Roofing. “Your roof is your first defense in protecting your home. Without it functioning properly, water damage can occur. This causes deterioration to insulation, wood and drywall, making electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems vulnerable. It’s better to proactively deal with repairs in the fall than to discover a leaky roof during a snowstorm. For safety’s sake, have a licensed, certified roofing professional check the condition of your roof.”
To read the complete article, as published on Zillow.com on Sept. 13th, 2012, please click here.
Landscape lighting can turn a visitor from feeling wary to welcome. It can change the rest of the yard from “Nightmare on Elm Street” to “Some Enchanted Evening,” all with the flip of a switch.
The first step in this transformation is to educate yourself about the possibilities. Because photos rarely do justice illustrating the amazing possibilities of landscape lighting, keep an eye out for good examples when you’re out for an evening stroll or drive.
The strong lights typically used for entrances and to illuminate large areas, such as driveways and decks, are powered by a 120-volt current. A qualified electrician must wire them directly to your circuit box and the cables, held within a protective conduit, must be buried at least 18 inches below ground. If you have these fixtures, make sure they are UL-listed and approved for outdoor use. The 120-v outdoor lights are also preferred for security applications, especially when combined with motion detection.
When less light is sufficient, low-voltage fixtures (12- to 15-v) are the norm. These include accent lights, path lights, and small floodlights. The fixtures are smaller and less obtrusive, use less energy, and are far less worrisome when in wet locations. They can also be plugged into an outdoor receptacle, making them ideal for do-it-yourself installations. The wiring does not require tools, and the cables do not need to be buried.
Solar-powered outdoor lights, a third option, are of course dependent upon exposure to the sun, and are variable with regard to output and when they turn on. They are best used to light paths where they are exposed to full sun throughout the day. Don’t put them in the shade!
Planning for outdoor lighting
Plot out your ideas on graph paper. Draw the footprint of your house to an 1/8-inch scale and sketch in all major landscape elements, including fences, decks, tree, paths, driveways and garden beds. Include the location of any existing or proposed outdoor receptacles as well.
Make notes about what you’d like to illuminate and then decide which fixtures will do the job best. Try to use a variety of lighting techniques. Avoid overly bright and dark areas, and avoid glare for both visitors and your neighbors. Do not place path lights too closely together to avoid the “runway” look. You’ll also have to decide about fixture style, of which there are many!
Types of outdoor lighting fixtures
Entry lanterns or sconces: 120-v fixtures that mount beside doors. They should be either frosted glass or shielded to prevent glare. Their size should be proportional to the height and width of the entry area (often defined by a portico).
Recessed lights: 120-v fixtures typically installed in eaves over decks and garage doors. They provide large pools of light but are mostly hidden. Small, low-voltage recessed lights can be used to light stairs, railings, posts, and built-in deck furniture.
Floodlights: 120-v or low-voltage fixtures used to light wide expanses and large interesting objects, such as driveways, stonework and trees.
Path lights: Usually low-voltage fixtures that illuminate paths by casting small pools of light on the ground. Sometimes, perforations in the light shield allow the lights themselves to be used as guides.
Spot light: Similar to floodlights but with a narrower beam for highlighting a specific object, such as a shrub or statuary.
In-ground light: 120v or low-voltage fixtures that are buried in the ground and covered with a gasketed lens. The beam can be angled slightly to illuminate a wall, tree or fence.
Hanging or pendant lighting: 120-v fixtures that are frequently used for entry or porch lighting. Low-voltage hanging lights strung in trees, arbors and pergolas have become popular as decorative accents.
Tip: You can simulate the effect of many of these lights with a strong flashlight. For an uplighting effect, hold the flashlight below the object or surface you wish to light. For a downlight effect, hold it above. Hold a reflector, such as a piece of white cardboard over the flashlight, and place it beside a path to simulate a path light. If the effects you want to achieve are sophisticated, consider discussing them with a landscape lighting designer.
Gone are the days when a kitchen sink was just a rectangular stainless-steel hole in the counter. Today, you not only have a wide array of sizes, shapes, and configurations to choose from, but also à la carte accessories—like drop-in cutting boards or the utensil holders—that can turn your sink into a multipurpose prep and cleanup zone. Here are some types to consider plus the sink materials that did best in Consumer Reports’ sink tests.
Top-mount (drop-in, self-rimming)
Best for a tight budget. It sits directly on top of the counter. Top-mounted sinks work with any countertop material and are the simplest type to install. But grime tends to build up around the lip of the sink. And top-mounts can detract from the look of stone countertops.
Price: $100 to $500
Best for many kitchen styles. Stainless-steel models work well with modern designs; copper or enameled cast iron suit a country style. It’s typically a deep single bowl with the faucet installed in the counter or wall. But farmhouse sinks are pricey and may require special cabinets. Plus, water can drip onto the cabinet below, causing damage to the finish or even the wood.
Price: $900 to $3,700
Best for a sleek look and easy cleanup. You can wipe spills and crumbs from counters directly into the sink. Faucets are installed into the counter or mounted on a wall behind the sink. But this type is usually more expensive and limited to waterproof solid-surface countertop materials, not laminate counters or most woods.
Price: $200 to $1,000
Best for use as a prep or bar sink because it’s long and narrow—from 8 to 14 inches wide and up to 50 inches long. Longer versions can be used by more than one person at a time. But they’re expensive and more fun than functional. And they might require custom cabinetry; typical sink cabinets aren’t designed for such a long, narrow fixture.
Price: $500 to $2,100
Top sinks in our tests
Stainless steel sinks outperformed all over materials in our sink tests. The stainless sinks were excellent at resisting stains, abrasions, sharp impacts and high heat. A drawback is that they can be noisy whenhit with running water. Next best was solid surfacing, which homeowners like because they can be paired with counters made of the same material for a seamless look. But in our tests high heat and dropping a sharp, light object, similar to a knife, damaged solid surfacing. Enameled steel and enameled cast iron typically cost less but stain more easily and the enamel can chip or crack if you drop a pot or sharp object. Acrylic sinks might look like enamel but they scratch more easily and heat can be damaging. Fireclay was the most expensive and the poorest performer.
Don’t forget the faucet. Buying a new sink gives you the opportunity to replace your faucet. In our faucet tests, models with a physical vapor deposition or PVD finish stood up to the most punishment.
Any real estate agent can tell you there are three important areas to consider if you’re selling your home: curb appeal, kitchens, and bathrooms. But why wait until you sell your home to shape up these areas? Follow the advice of real estate professionals to put your home’s best “face” forward—even if you’re not putting it on the market.
1. Curb Appeal
This is the first impression your home makes on any visitor. In the real estate industry it’s referred to as “curb appeal” because many prospective buyers won’t even get out of the car to look inside if they don’t like your home from the curb. Take a good hard look from your curb. Does your home feel welcoming? Is it a place that makes you want to come inside?
Here are a few other questions to consider:
Is your siding out-of-date or in need of repair?
Is your roof in good shape?
Are your driveway and walkways cracked and dingy?
Does the landscaping date your house?
Are your windows and shutters in good condition?
What does your front door look like?
Is your porch welcoming and clutter-free?
If you can only do one thing, replace the front door.
Replace the old door with a newer model of the same size. This will spare you the cost of resizing the opening and still give you a lot of bang for your buck. Many models are built to fit into existing woodwork, which will also spare you the cost of having to replace the entire unit. Also, if you can get away with it, remove the screen door. This often detracts from the home by hiding a beautiful door, not to mention is prone to noticeable wear and tear.
A kitchen is generally the first thing prospective homeowners look at, and for good reason. Today’s kitchen is the life of the home, often serving as a dining area, office, entertaining, and gathering place. With so many important functions, the kitchen should be the most welcoming room in the house.
Here are a few factors to consider:
Are your appliances all up-to-date and in good working shape?
Do your kitchen cabinets complement or detract from the room?
Would a fresh coat of paint revive the room?
Are your countertops in good shape and clutter-free?
Is your flooring chipped or otherwise in need of repair?
If you can only do one thing, update your kitchen cabinets.
The cabinetry generally sets the tone for the kitchen, so with this one project you can instantly revitalize the room. If you can’t afford to replace all of the cabinets, consider a more affordable option. Stain or paint them a new color or reface them with new cabinet doors. Don’t forget to add new hardware to complete the look.
Bathrooms are the smallest space in your home, yet they usually get the most visitors. It only makes sense to ensure that this space, repeatedly used by both residents and guests, is a welcoming environment. Fortunately, due to its small space, the bathroom is probably the easiest room in your house to update.
Some other factors to consider when examining your bathroom:
Does your flooring look dingy or is it in need of repair?
Is there suitable lighting?
Is there enough storage space?
Are your bathroom cabinets in good shape?
Do your bathroom fixtures date the room?
Is the environment relaxing?
If you can only do one thing, replace your bathroom flooring.
As bathroom floors tend to get dingy, new flooring provides an instant makeover to any bathroom. And, with such a small space you can afford to splurge a bit on a more expensive option such as a natural stone tile or ceramic tile.
If you’re buying budget-friendly stock or semi-custom cabinets, you don’t have to settle for the ordinary. Decorative elements can give even basic stock cabinets a more personalized look in an array of styles, including modern, country, and traditional. Here are four things you can do to give everyday cabinets an upscale look.
Accent doors. Available in a variety of styles—textured or colored, frosted glass, and stainless steel—accent doors can enhance visual interest or create an industrial look, suggests Janet Vanderlugt, kitchens manager for Ikea.
Moldings. Ranging in style from simple and classic to elegant and ornate, moldings can be added to the tops, bottoms, or edges of cabinets as a finishing touch, or along the bottoms of wall cabinets to conceal under cabinet lighting. Just be sure the style you choose suits the look of your cabinets.
Legs. Feet, added to the bases of built-in cabinets, create the “unfitted” effect of freestanding furniture.
Decorative trim. Pieces, such as corbels, corner details, turnings, and onlays, can be found for a great price in local lumber stores and home centers.
How to choose kitchen cabinets:
Style might be what grabs your eye at the store, but it’s the inner details that help well-made cabinets look good and last year after year. Most manufacturers offer a similar range of door styles, whether they’re selling ready-made, semi-custom, or made-to-order custom cabinets. Here are the features to look for:
• Full-extension drawer guides.
• Plywood shelves that are ¾-inch thick.
• A cabinet box made of furniture-grade plywood.
• Drawers with solid wood sides, dovetail joinery, and a plywood bottom.
• Doors with a solid-wood frame surrounding a solid-wood or plywood panel.
More than 2.1 million burglaries were reported in the United States in 2012. That’s one every 15 seconds, according to the FBI, proving just how easy it is for burglars to gain entry. But before you make a big purchase on a security system, take a good hard look around your home. A few simple, low- or no-cost measures will significantly deter a would-be thief from targeting your home.
“The goal in home security is to make it so that the casual burglar will be deterred,” Chris McGoey, an independent security consultant in the Los Angeles area, said. “It’s impossible to make your house perfectly secure, but there are low-tech measures that will do 90 percent of the job.”
Choose a coming weekend and go over these 14 steps—which range from low-effort, no-cost chores to more-involved, pricier projects—to improve your home’s security.
1. Hold a household meeting
Make home security a habit, with every member of the household—including kids—agreeing to a routine that should include such simple rules as:
• Use door and window locks. It costs nothing and takes little energy. Make it a habit to lock every door and window when leaving, after entering, and before bedtime.
• Do not open the door to uninvited or unwelcome visitors.
• Close and lock the garage door.
• Secure your home even if you’re doing work around the house and yard.
• Use your alarm system all the time, even when you take a quick trip to the store or visit next-door neighbors.
2. Call on the police
Many municipal police departments offer complimentary home inspections. An officer walks through your home and recommends simple, cost-effective changes to tighten security.
3. Organize a burglary
This is a fun, useful exercise to do with a trusted neighbor or friend: Allow your neighbor to roam through your house for three minutes, find as many small valuables as possible, and remove them from your house. Let the ersatz burglar demonstrate how easy it is to find valuables. Then hide them from real burglars. That might mean buying a small safe that bolts to the floor, renting an off-premises safe-deposit box, or stashing jewelry and cash in unorthodox places. You can return the favor for your neighbor.
4. Remove the ‘hidden’ house key
The key under the mat, inside the mailbox, beneath a rock—everybody hides a house key. Problem is, burglars know your hiding places. Instead, give it to a trusted neighbor.
5. Place keys and garage-door remotes in a smart spot
Don’t leave car and house keys and remotes near the door or otherwise visible inside your house. Secure them inside a cabinet or a drawer to keep them hidden.
6. Add foreboding signs
Post security-company signs or window stickers near all entryways—whether you have a security system or not. Maybe you have signs/stickers on hand from a previous contract with a security firm, or maybe you can get some from a friend. In addition, post a few “Beware of Dog” signs in visible spots, say at the front of the house or on a gate to the backyard.
7. Lock up the ladder
Don’t store a ladder outside. A burglar, perhaps posing as a handyman or contractor, could use it to gain access to a second-floor window or balcony.
8. Light up the outdoors
If you don’t have them already, buy and install outdoor lighting with infrared motion sensors and install one near each point of entry. Replace any burned-out lightbulbs and put your porch lights on timers. Find the best bulbs for outdoor uses.
9. Install timers
When you leave for work or appointments or go on vacation, you can create a “someone’s at home” look using timers on lights and TVs. No surprise, there are lots of gadgets available. Fake TV, for instance, simulates the flickering lights of a television, and from outside, it appears that someone is watching TV.
10. Secure air conditioning units
Unsecured window air conditioners could provide an easy entry point for a crook. Use an air conditioner bracket, sliding window lock, or corner braces.
11. Eliminate hiding spots
If your shrubbery is too tall, bushy, or not well spaced, you’re providing a nice hiding spot for a potential burglar. Trim and prune plantings.
12. Check windows
Are the window locks operable? If not, get them fixed or replace them. Also consider installing aftermarket window locks, which let you open the window a few inches while still keeping it secure. Another alternative is to use inexpensive window-break alarms. Check our home window buying guide.
13. Assess doors
Okay, so you’re probably not going to be able to install new doors by yourself over a weekend. But you can inspect your front, side, and back doors. Replace hollow (read: low-quality and easy-to-breach) doors with solid-core (made of wood or metal) or metal-clad doors. Check our buying guide for entry doors.
Sliding-glass doors have a latch to close them but are often an easy point of entry for burglars. To make one more secure, place a wood dowel cut to size or an adjustable safety bar in the interior floor track, or consider adding a floor bolt.
Electric garage doors are not a common point of entry—as long as they are closed. “I can drive you down almost any street in America and find a garage door that is open and the inner door is unlocked,” McGoey says. “Homeowners have to treat all the doors like the front door and close it.”
14. Replace weak locks
Locks are the weakest point on a door. Make sure you have a grade 1 or grade 2 dead-bolt lock that penetrates the door frame. It’s not necessary to get one at a specialty locksmith; these can be purchased at a big-box home store. The strike plate—the stationary piece that the bolt enters—must be heavy duty, made of solid metal or brass, with six three-inch-long screws that penetrate the door jamb and the door frame. Check out our door lock buying guide and read about the $10 part that will make your door lock safer.
Here are ten tips from our experts on how to control the bugs in your area.
1.Standing Water: Be sure that you empty any standing water. Standing water is a sure breeding ground for mosquitos, who love shallow water and warm weather. Remember to change the water in kiddy pools, bird baths, and fountains weekly.
2.Lawn Care: The better cared for your lawn, the better chance you’ll have a bug-free zone. Tall grasses and messy flower beds are a bug utopia. Keep things well-cared for and you’ll stop bug breeding before it starts.
3.Frontline: Keep dogs and cats treated with Frontline, especially if they come inside. This will cut down on fleas, ticks, and even mosquito-born disease. You can find prescription strength formulas at your local vet’s office or you can choose a milder formula at your local Supercenter.
4.Citronella Candles: Made from a tall grass with a lemon scent, these candles can help keep bugs at bay while you lounge on your deck or patio.
5.Essential Oil Spray: Go natural with essential oils. There are certain plant oils that bugs hate! Mix up a spray bottle with distilled water, spearmint and orange oil, and spray your legs, arms, and any mosquito-prone spots.
6.Off!: Some people prefer to use commercial bug sprays, such as the OFF! brand. There are many choices from formulas for deep woods (hiking) to sensitive skin. Choose the right formula for your family.
7.Screens: Install screens on all windows of your home. This will keep bugs out, especially at night when they are attracted to lights on inside. Screened in porches and portable gazebos are also a great Summertime option.
8.Hand-held Foggers: These foggers kill bugs quickly without residue and keep them at bay for hours.
9.Fly-tape: It’s not pretty, but it sure can do the job. Flies can be a real pest at picnics and even just around your home. Keep garbage and other stinky items sealed away and then start eradicating flies.
10.Bug Zappers. They’re not attractive, but since bugs are attracted to light it can be a great solution for killing bugs, as long as you don’t mind the sound.
Bugs serve a real purpose in the circle of Mother Nature’s life, but they don’t need to be hanging out in or around your home! Follow these simple tips and you’ll be well on your way to a bug free zone.