Welcoming Your Holiday Guests

Photo by: Justin Russell on Flickr.com

Photo by: Justin Russell on Flickr.com

One week until Thanksgiving! And only five weeks until Christmas! From buying groceries to washing sheets, it can be hard to know where to begin. To make the holidays merrier – and your life easier – consider these entertaining tips.

Getting Organized

  • Get ready to whip up a feast.

Whether you’re cooking for 2 or 20, a tidy kitchen is a great way to start.

  • Prepare a spot for coffee and cocoa.

A self-serve beverage station can help save precious counter space.

Setting the Tone

  • Make an impression with items you already own.

You can create a festive table – without breaking the bank.

  • Let a conversation piece do the work.

Making small talk with distant relatives can be tough.

Adding Personal Touches

  • Say hello with a welcome kit.

It’s the little things that make guests feel at home.

  • Create a homey guest room.

Fresh flowers and a few thoughtful amenities go a long way.

To read more about welcoming your holiday guests on zillow.com/blog, please click here. 

Things to Know Before You Spark Up the Logs



With natural gas and propane prices continuing to rise, you’ll likely be looking to the old fireplace this winter to help cut your home-heating bills. But before you spark up the logs, take heed that fireplaces and chimneys are involved in 42 percent of all home-heating fires. So first make sure yours is up to snuff by following these seven safety tips.

1. Hire a Chimney Sweep

The National Fire Protection Association recommends that chimneys be swept at least once a year at the beginning of the winter to remove soot and debris. Find a certified sweep in your area via the Chimney Safety Institute of America.

2. Check for Damage

In addition to cleaning, a chimney sweep should inspect the chimney structure for cracks, loose bricks, or missing mortar. Chimney liners should also be checked for cracking or deterioration.

3. Cap the Chimney

A cap fitted with wire-mesh sides covers the top of the chimney and keeps rain, birds, squirrels, and debris from entering. Replace or repair a cap that’s missing or damaged.

4. Burn Seasoned Hardwoods

Choose dense wood, such as oak, that’s been split and stored in a high and dry place for at least six months. Green wood and resinous softwoods like pine produce more creosote, a flammable by-product of combustion that can build up in the chimney.

5. Don’t Overload

Small fires generate less smoke, thus less creosote buildup. Also, a fire that’s too large or too hot can crack the chimney.

6. Build It Right

Place logs at the rear of the fireplace on a metal grate. Use kindling, rather than flammable liquids, to start the fire.

7. Use a Spark Guard

Prevent errant embers from shooting out of the firebox with a mesh metal screen or glass fireplace doors. A guard in front of an open flame is especially important when the room is unoccupied.

To read the original article as published on thisoldhouse.com, please click here.

Prepare Your Home for the Upcoming Winter

Snow HouseWinterizing your home may feel like a chore, but it’s cheap, easy, and will make the winter go by as smoothly and comfortably as possible. There are numerous ways to prepare your home for the colder months and they generally all fall into one of three categories: windows/doors, HVAC, or insulation. Once December rolls around, you’ll be grateful you completed each task on this list.

1. Install Storm Doors and Windows

When it comes to windows and doors, the best way to keep the cold air out of the home is to install storm windows and doors. In fact, installing a storm door can increase energy efficiency by 45 percent after sealing drafts and reducing airflow.

Ventilating storm doors often offer an upper level of ventilation while keeping the aluminum or steel design on the bottom. This is useful when homeowners want more privacy, but don’t need a lot of ventilation. Models come with many options, like having the screen available at the top or bottom of the door. This is a great option for homes in cold climates where the screen can easily be removed in the winter and replaced in the spring. It also adds an extra layer of security, making it harder for intruders to gain access as opposed to a full-length screen storm door.

2. Install New Windows

Old windows may add to that vintage or traditional charm you always crave, but it certainly doesn’t keep the cold out of the home. In fact, old windows can be the No. 1 source of heat loss. Bear in mind, new windows are not cheap, but the long-term energy and heating savings are sure to make up for that hefty investment.

Fortunately, there are ways to winterize your home with your current windows and doors. Cold air tends to make its way through the windows and doors, giving your heating system a much tougher time to do its job. The best way to overcome those frosty breezes is by caulking your windows and doors. When you’re caulking your windows and doors, be sure to always smooth out the lines with a wet finger. This will keep everything even, looking as though a professional did the job.

3. Buy or Make Draft Stoppers

These days, many homeowners are using draft stoppers as opposed to installing new doors. While it may not be as effective, they certainly do work. You can purchase draft stoppers (or snakes) at many local hardware stores, or you can even create one yourself. Just roll up a bath towel and place it under your door or window. On the other hand, you can turn this winterizing tactic into a fun activity for the kids. Just grab some old fabric, pillowcases, or anything that can hold solid material and fill it with sand.

4. Add Plastic to Your Windows

If you really don’t want to get your hands dirty with caulk, you can always purchase window plastic. The plastic is basically invisible, and any homeowner can install it. As long as you remove all the air bubbles, it will look as if a pro just left the house.

5. Replace Furnace Filters

No appliances are more relevant in the winter than your heating systems and furnaces. You must change those furnace filters often. Dirty filters restrict airflow and increase energy demand.If you have not already done so, head to your nearest home improvement store and stock up on filters. The earlier you do, the cheaper they will be.

6. Upgrade or Repair Your Furnace

Even if you regularly change the furnace filter, other problems can arise. As a result, you will more than likely have to repair the furnace or upgrade to a new one. According to our furnace repair cost estimator, the average price to repair a furnace is $258. However, know that this price can fluctuate quite a bit depending on your warranty. Keep in mind that the furnace’s age, size, and overall condition also factor into the repair costs.

On the other hand, you could also go for an upgrade and install an Energy Star model. They could save you up to 20 percent compared to new models, or as much as 50 percent versus older models. The average price to install a new furnace is $3,602.

7. Monitor The Thermostat

When the temperatures really start to drop, you must leave your heating system on. This will help keep your pipes unfrozen, ensure a comfortable inside temperature, and save money on HVAC repairs down the road. Nonetheless, homeowners must always monitor their thermostat to ensure they are not spending more than necessary.

According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), the rule of thumb is that you can save about 3 percent on your gas bill for every degree you decrease on the thermostat. Furthermore, ACEEE says that if you turn it down 10 degrees when you go to work and at night—for at least 16 hours a day—you can save about 14 percent.

8. Reverse Rotation of Ceiling Fans

Heat rises. In order to save energy and prevent the hot air from leaving your bedrooms, living rooms and kitchens, reverse the rotation of your ceiling fans to push the heat downwards. Ceiling fans should run clockwise in the winter. Many fans have a simple switch above the fan and others just use the cord hanging from the ceiling fan itself. As a result, all of the hot air your furnace is generating will be gently pushed back down.

9. Insulate Your Pipes

One easy way to add insulation yourself is by wrapping your pipes. This will undoubtedly decrease the chance of frozen pipes, but also save money on hot water. A great way to see if your pipes need insulation is by checking the outside temperature. If the pipes are very hot or cold, then add some insulation. You can get pre-slit pipe foam at most hardware stores: Try to buy materials with the highest R-value.

10. Build A Fire or Grab A Sweater

There are always simple changes that may not make the biggest difference, but rarely come with a cost. Grab some extra firewood and make a fire in your living room. Not only will a properly maintained fireplace reduce your heating costs, but it also gives homeowners that homey and comfortable feel we all seek.

You could always take out a comfortable sweater as you lounge around binging on Netflix. Roughly speaking, a light long-sleeved sweater is worth about two degrees in added warmth, while a heavy sweater adds about four degrees.


As you can see, there are many ways to prepare your home for winter. Some may be more expensive than you thought, but others are cheap, easy, and very DIY-friendly. Ensure a comfortable winter by accomplishing a few—if not all—of these winterizing projects.

To read the article as published wallstcheatsheet.com, please click here.

Making Your New Home Feel Like Home

UnpackingBecause it’s hard to feel settled when you’re surrounded by boxes and can’t get to your couch or clean underwear. Here are some ways to make your new place feel like home.

1. Make your bed. Whether that means getting out the tool box and assembling it, or just making up the mattress that sits on the floor, do it.

2. Plug in a few lamps. Because overhead lighting rarely sets the right mood.

3. Clean it. In a perfect world, your landlord or the previous owner will make sure it’s sparkling, but we all know it’s not a perfect world. So be ready to do a little dusting.

4. Get the bathroom set up. Nothing says “new apartment” like a curtainless shower, so hang one up ASAP. Then stock the bathroom with towels, a bath mat, hand soap, body wash, and toilet paper.

5. Get your internet set up. Is there anything that makes you feel more relieved once you’ve moved into a new place? No. No, there is not.

6. Light some candles. The smell will instantly remind you of your last place.

7. Go to the grocery store and stock up on the essentials. Having staples like ketchup, mustard, peanut butter, milk, cereal, and salt and pepper will help you shake off that sad empty-fridge feeling. (And it’ll make all the takeout you’re ordering taste that much better!)

8. Hang up curtains. They instantly make a room feel more welcoming.

9. Pick one room and prioritize making it completely cozy. Choose the living room or a bedroom, clear it of all boxes, set up the furniture, and add lots of pillows and blankets; it’s good to have a safe place when the rest of your house is a disaster.

10. Add life with plants. They add so much to a space! Opt for succulents if you’re worried you’ll kill them.

11. Once you’ve unpacked a little bit, start moving all your remaining boxes to one room.

12. Actually spend time there. If you’re never around, your place won’t feel like a home at all. So make a point to cook at home a few nights a week, read on your patio, or spend regular Lazy Sundays in bed. The more time you spend actually using your place, the more it’ll feel like yours.

To read the complete article as published on buzzfeed.com, please click here.

Maximize Your Small Kitchen

Photo by: Emily May @ go haus go

Photo by: Emily May @ go haus go

Cramped cooking space? No big deal. Put these smart and functional tricks to the test.Rethink everything-including the sink–to keep this central space beautiful and functional. These kitchen decorating tricks can help any apartment renter or homeowner.

Hey, Up There
A cabinet hung high in a corner commands attention and draws the eye toward the ceiling. Going with bold wallpaper and art also distract from the size of the room.

Showstopping Color
An elegant, theatrical color, like this bright pink, gets plenty of attention, and the cheap cupboards almost fade away. Genius!

Out in the Open
These monochromatic shelves show off a tightly edited collection of plates and glasses, all within easy reach.

From the Corner
A bright color puts an exclamation point on a small kitchen and distinguishes it as a separate zone.

Clear Choice
A see-through acrylic shelf lightens a confined space and makes an artful collection of dishes appear to float. Less attractive pieces are relegated to the cupboards above.

Seating Arrangements
A scaled-down pedestal table plus comfy stools that stay out of the way turn even a bite-sized kitchen into an eat-in one.

Brilliant Idea
Open shelves of gleaming highballs, a shiny glass-tile backsplash, and stainless-steel countertops create a glowing, mirror-like effect in a streamlined kitchen with an ingratiated two-burner stove and small sink.

Optical Illusion
Just like on a sweater, broad horizontal stripes make everything seem wider. This black-and-white flooring creates the appearance of space in a narrow galley kitchen.

To see photo examples and read the article as published on yahoo.com, please click here.

Getting Your Lawn Ready for the upcoming Winter

Photo by Kevin Dooley

Photo by Kevin Dooley

Autumn is generally seen as the season of winding down before winter dormancy. But when it comes to lawn care, fall is a busy time. What you do now will go a long way in safeguarding the health your grass, not only for the immediate future, but also for the next growing season. While on the surface your fall lawn may look a bit bedraggled, the roots below ground are still hard at work, storing up the reserves they’ll need to survive the winter and thrive come springtime.

Though at other times of year there are reasons to choose a fast-acting liquid fertilizer, in autumn — about a week after you mow the lawn for the last time — it’s best to apply a slow-release granular fertilizer. While the liquid stuff delivers a sudden jolt of nutrients, the granular variety feeds grass slowly over time. In most parts of the country, that’s exactly what you want. In very cold regions, pick a fertilizer specially formulated for winter protection — one that’s high in nitrogen. If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere warm, you already know that fertilizing is a year-round affair. For you, fall isn’t so critical. (Boy, you’ve got it made!)

Theoretically, you could spread granular fertilizer over the lawn by hand. The reality is, however, that doing the job manually leaves too much room for error. While underfertilizing isn’t a catastrophe, overfertilizing is a real concern, and it’s easy to apply fertilizer too abundantly if you’re totally winging it.

Indeed, there’s a reason why professional landscapers use walk-behind spreaders. These outdoor tools include a flow-rate lever, which enables the user to set the precise amount of fertilizer to be dispersed per square foot of lawn area. If you’re serious about lawn care, a spreader is a tool worth buying.

You’ll notice that on your purchased package of fertilizer, the manufacturer lists the ideal number of granules to be applied per square foot. You can set the spreader to release precisely that amount, but here’s a superior method: Set the spreader to disperse half of the recommended volume, run the spreader over the lawn in one direction, then take it in the reverse direction, hitting the areas you initially missed. Because the effects of fertilizer are confined to the area immediately surrounding the spot where the granule hits the ground, the key to success is even dispersion. But when in doubt, underfertilize.

Once you’ve completed the work, clean the spreader before storing it away. Otherwise, the metal components might rust over the course of the off-season. If you’re left with a partially full bag of fertilizer, seal it airtight and keep it in a dry place. Exposed to the air, fertilizer hardens up and becomes unusable.

Additional tips

Fill the spreader in the driveway, not the lawn, to avoid spilling and overfertilizing one particular area.
For the spreader to operate correctly, both the tool and the fertilizer granules must be dry.
Wearing gloves is a sensible precaution to take when you’re handling fertilizer granules.

To read the article as published on homes.yahoo.com – by Bob Vila, please click here.

Tips on Lowering Your Heating Bill

Photo by Midnightcomm

Photo by Midnightcomm

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!

To read the original article and other money saving advice on daveramsey.com, please click here.

Sell Your Home Quickly and For Top Dollar

Front YardIf 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.

To see 12 more improvements that can help you house sell for top dollar, please click here.

Make Sure Your Home is Trick-Or-Treat Ready



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!

To read this article by Bob Vila on zillow.com/blog, please click here.

Fall Home Maintenance Checklist

House in FallBy Barbara Winfield

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.

Exterior maintenance

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.

Next Page »