New Advances In Technology Make Going Green A Breeze

Did you know that an automatic dishwasher uses less hot water than doing dishes by hand, which equals an average of six gallons less per cycle, or more than 2,000 gallons per year? Considering that an individual American uses about 2,000 gallons of water per month, that’s a pretty significant number.

The idea of “going green” has come a long way in recent decades. In the 1950s, some kinds of energy efficiency weren’t really a choice. From drying your clothes on a clothesline, to cutting your grass with a mechanical push mower, people often lived green without ever consciously considering their carbon footprint. These days, the story is a little different; you can’t turn a corner or pick something up without seeing some kind of “save the earth” signage or packaging.

Reasons to Go Green

There are a plethora of reasons to go green, most falling into either the money-saving or the earth-saving categories. On one hand, you could seriously put some green back into your wallet with things like energy-efficient appliances, and green building tax credits and rebates. Also, simple things like carpooling, limiting eating out, and starting your own vegetable garden are great ways to save money and help the environment.

On the other hand, eco-friendliness means making your community and the planet a better place to live not only for us, but also for future generations. Examples of things you can do in your home are unplugging unused electronics to prevent “phantom” energy consumption, switching to LED light bulbs, conserving water by taking shorter showers, and using reusable items like Tupperware and canvas shopping bags rather than plastic.

Home Automation Technology

New advances in technology are taking much of the guesswork out of going green. With home automation systems like the Wink Hub and free app, you can control the settings on many of your home devices with the push of a smartphone button or even just with your voice. The Wink ecosystem interconnects all of your smart home devices either first through the Hub, or directly to the app. Wink’s simplicity is one of its most attractive features: according to Home Depot technology professional and Wink test user, Ramesh Chaparala, “It’s very, very simple and self-explanatory,” continuing, “Installing the Hub is a no-brainer; in five steps you’re connected.”

What Can You Control?

With the Wink home automation ecosystem, you no longer have to “set it and forget it” when it comes to your home devices. You can control many of your smart devices from your couch, bed, work, or anywhere you are in the world. Here are just a handful of devices you can install in your home that will not only bring you into the 21st century, but also make your home a smoothly running, highly efficient machine.

Smart Thermostats

Thermostats are a great way to control your home’s energy consumption, and when you apply smart technology, you can control it from anywhere. One Wink App Ready device is the Honeywell Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat, which not only adjusts to your schedule, uses automatic energy-saving settings, and Smart Response technology for precise temps, but also has a full-color, customizable screen to match your decorating scheme. You can be sure your home is aesthetically pleasing and at your exact desired temperature at all times.

Custom Window Shades

Motorized window shades allow for a clean, uncluttered look, are safer for pets and children with cordless technology, and help insulate your home with the setting of a timer or the push of a button. One quality option, Bali Custom Blinds and Shades with Somfy® automation & controls, utilizes a single control, wall switch, remote or programmable timer to operate single or multiple window coverings. Keep the shades drawn during summer to keep your home naturally cool, or leave them open in cooler months to let the sunshine warm your space.

Remote-Access LED Lights

Huge energy and money savings start by simply swapping out incandescent and even compact fluorescent light bulbs in your home for LED bulbs. LED solutions outlast incandescent and halogen bulbs up to 35 to 1, consume 85% less energy than incandescent bulbs, and emit less heat, which altogether drastically reduces replacing costs and landfill waste. Once you’ve decided to install LEDs, take it to the next level by installing smart light bulbs, like the TCP Connected Smart LED Light Bulb Kit with (2) A19 LED light bulbs. With this kit, you can remotely control lighting, dimming and smart lighting features from anywhere in the world with any computer, tablet, smart phone, or connected remote control. They have an estimated yearly cost of $1.32 and a life expectancy of 22.8 years (both figures based on three hours of use a day.)

Home Automation Technology is an Environmental No-Brainer

When it comes to eco-friendly new gadgets, it’s clear that home automation takes the cake. Having nearly complete control of your energy-consuming home devices right at your fingertips is certainly a big step forward for earth-conscious homeowners. In addition to these devices, several other smart green products are energy sensors, HVAC systems, irrigation systems, and outlet controls.

Which environmentally friendly automated devices will you install in your home?

Written by Sarah Kellner

How Green Can You Go? Eco-friendly Solutions For Every Commitment Level

It’s hard to ignore the influence of big oil in Texas. Thirty-five miles to the Southwest of Frisco, TX, this year’s second-fastest-growing city in the nation and home to thousands of suburban families like my own, whose electric bills climb up into the $300-plus range while cooling their 3,000-square-foot house, Irving-based Exxon is the biggest oil producer in the world – and that’s just the tip of the oil well. Frisco is also among the Texas cities where deregulation among power options is still not a thing, BTW. Oh and there’s also a fun Texas law that “allows builders to restrict solar-energy devices while a housing development is under construction,” said the Dallas Morning News, and when they would be most convenient, and most cost-effective to install, in most cases.

This is not the place you’d expect to see, oh, I don’t know, a luxury community of eco-friendly homes with features including grass rooftops.

But that’s precisely what is being proposed by architecture and design firms Stantec and Total Environment, who presented the concept “for a 57-acre, single-family home development” with luxury homes featuring low-energy, environmentally friendly products” to the Planning and Zoning Commission this week, said Frisco Community Impact. “These types of homes are popular in other countries such as India and Dubai, and, if approved, would be the first in the U.S., according to developers.”  

 

It begs the question: Did green living just move from the fringe to the forefront? If eco-friendly homes can come to oil-rich, fracking-loving Texas, are we talking game-changer? Could be.

We’re still a long way from hiring landscapers to manage our rooftops en masse. But, in the meantime, it’s easier and more rewarding than ever to live a leaner, greener life. So it might be time to ask yourself: How green can you go?

Here’s our breakdown of some of the best ways to incorporate a more eco-friendly way of life into your world, no matter your commitment level.

Green “lite”

You may already have thought of some of the easiest ways to go green, like recycling at home, watering plants early or late in the day when the sun is not at full strength, and doing laundry and dishes during the coolest part of the day to save your air conditioning from working overtime.

Compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFL) are probably already on your radar, which is a great thing, since, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), CFLs use as much as 75% less energy than those old incandescent bulbs and can also last up to 10x longer.

Here are a few easy changes you can make that you may not have considered:

Replace nonstick pans with cast-iron. “To create the slick surface of nonstick cookware, manufacturers apply chemicals called fluoropolymers, which are released into the air when you cook at high temperatures, according to the Environmental Working Group,” said Prevention. “Worse, the chemicals break down into compounds such as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a likely human carcinogen that’s also been linked to heart disease, and can get into your food.”

Do your wash in cold water. Energy Star says that close to 90 percent of the energy used for laundry goes to water heating. Buy some cold-water detergent and you’re good to go.

Set your TV picture to “normal” instead of the manufacturer setting. “Many flat screens are shipped from the manufacturer with a picture setting that makes it stand out in retail displays, but are brighter than you need at home and consume 10 to 20% more energy (and cash) at this setting, reports the NRDC,” said Prevention.

Ditch your regular house cleaners. Many of them can include toxic ingredients that can harm the environment and are also potentially dangerous to members of your household. The only things you really need to clean just about everything in your house: baking soda, white vinegar, and lemon.

Trade your regular mulch for rubber. Mulch is great for your yard because it keeps moisture in and also makes it look nice and tidy. But rubber is a step up from the bark-like texture you’re probably used to seeing. “Made from 100-percent recycled tires, rubber mulch is suitable to use on most landscapes,” said HGTV. “It has several benefits: a safe play surface for children, prevents weeds, does not attract insects and water and air can easily flow through it.”

Green medium

Looking to make a larger commitment to green living? There are changes you can make outside of daily efforts like watching your water and electricity usage and choosing products with a more eco-friendly profile for everyday use.

Seal it up. Sealing up any leaks can make a big difference in the heating and cooling loss that’s driving up your bills – as much as a 20 percent difference, according to Energy Star. It’s also a pretty DIY-friendly task, but to get the best results, you may want to hire a professional Home Energy Auditor who can give you the lowdown on where your home is deficient and recommend changes.

Start composting. “Compost is organic material that can be added to soil to help plants grow. Food scraps and yard waste currently make up 20 to 30 percent of what we throw away, and should be composted instead,” said the EPA. “Making compost keeps these materials out of landfills where they take up space and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas.” Their easy composting guide will give you all the info you need to for a DIY compost.

Replace your appliances. That old fridge is working hard to cool what’s inside, and that’s costing you – literally. It, and its friends the old dishwasher and washer and dryer, are sucking up energy and dollars. Swapping them out for newer, Energy Star versions, is good for the environment, and your bank account. Whether you get a new refrigerator or not, these tips from Prevention will help you save even more: “Keeping your fridge pushed tight up against the wall limits circulation and makes the unit work harder, increasing your energy use and costs. Keep it a few inches away from the wall, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions to safely keep the fridge’s coils clean. If you’re one of the 25% of U.S. households using a second, older fridge, considering recycling it. Running an older – model fridge – ones commonly used in basements or garages – could cost your family up to $300 a year. Temperature makes a difference, too. Proper fridge temp should fall anywhere from 35 to 38 degrees – anything lower wastes energy.”

Hardcore green

Window replacement falls here because it can be a big dollar commitment. “All-new vinyl windows for an average 2,450-square-foot house run about $15,000, according to the ‘Remodeling Impact Report’ from the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®,” said Houselogic. But, the good news is that you’ll save “$126–$465 a year when replacing single-pane windows, according to Energy Star. And, “For average-quality vinyl windows, you can recoup 80% of the project cost in added home value, according to the ‘Remodeling Impact Report,'” said Houselogic. Based on the vinyl window replacement projects in the report, that’s a value add of about $12,000 if you should decide to sell your house.”

Other “major commitments” include:

Use spray foam insulation. Give that old pink stuff the heave-ho. “An alternative to traditional fiberglass and cellulose insulation, spray foam traps more conditioned air within the home, allowing for significantly less leakage and consequently, reduced energy use year round,” said CBS. “Containing rapidly renewable material, spray foam insulation does not produce harmful emissions and is also water and shrink proof, which translates into zero framing distortion over time — a huge construction plus. A study done on side-by-side homes, one with traditional insuation, and one with spray foam, “found that the use of spray foam to create an unvented attic (Home CP2a) lowers the HERS (the industry standard by which a home’s energy efficiency is measured) score from 84* to 79, and results in a net annual energy savings of 16%. When spray foam is used to provide an unvented attic and insulate the exterior walls (Home CP3a), the HERS score is reduced from 84 to 78, and the annual energy savings increases to 22%.”

If you’re building from scratch, consider the material. You already know that bamboo is a top choice because it is renewable. But have you thought about recycled steel? “Two out of every three tons of new steel are recycled from old steel, making it the most recycled material on the planet,” said CBS. “According to the Steel Recycling Institute, steel also uses less energy and emits fewer harmful CO2 emissions than many other building materials, making it an optimum green choice. You also can’t beat steel for durability.”

Choose sustainably harvested materials. You can get a natural wood look without the guilt by looking for eco-friendly options. “Put in formaldehyde-free cabinetry to avoid releasing environmental toxins,” said Nolo. “Better yet, go for wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which will be sustainably harvested.”

Go solar. Forget those ugly solar panels. Elon Musk and Tesla are in the process of upending the roofing industry with their Solar Roof glass tiles, which are “offered in four styles of Tuscan, Slate, Textured, and Smooth” and which “look like regular roof tiles from ground level, but embedded with photovoltaic solar cells underneath,” said Teslarati. The first installations are expected soon, and are also said to be less expensive than many traditional roofing materials.

Reclaim your water. Water reclamation is an easy enough undertaking that it could go in the medium category above. But, for many, people, the idea of recycling water is slightly traumatizing, so it’s going here instead. The thing is, you don’t have to recycle all the water in the home to reap the benefits from an eco-friendly perspective. If the idea of blackwater, which includes wastewater from toilets as well as dishwashers and garbage disposals,gives you the shivers, you’re not alone. Companies are busy working on black water recycling systems, but, for now, you only need to concentrate on gray water, “which is tap water soiled by use in washing machines, tubs, showers and bathroom sinks,” said How Stuff Works. “Gray water reclamation is the process by which households make use of gray water’s potential instead of simply piping it into overburdened sewage systems with all the black water.

The advantages of gray water reclamation for your wallet include lower water and sewage bills. Additionally, reusing gray water’s otherwise wasted nutrients from soap (nitrogen and phosphorous) and food (potassium) can sustain plant life and recharge topsoil.”

Written by Jaymi Naciri

The Do’s And Don’ts Of Tapping Your Rising Home Equity

If you bought a home recently, it may already have increased in value. Equity growth goes hand-in-hand with pride of ownership (and fun stuff like tax breaks) when it comes to homebuyer goals, so say a big, “Yay!”

“Nearly 91,000 homeowners regained equity in the first quarter of 2017, according to real estate data firm CoreLogic’s latest housing report, said Realtor.com. “Since the end of the most recent housing crisis, 9 million owners in total have regained equity, the report notes. About 63 percent of all homeowners have seen their equity increase since the first quarter of 2016, with the average owner gaining about $13,400 between then and the first quarter of 2017.” According to Frank Martell, president and CEO of CoreLogic, that’s the “largest increase since mid-2014.”

But, before you go making plans for all that equity, either by doing a cash-out refinance (if possible and prudent) or getting a home equity loan, take a pause. That money may be best left right where it is. If you still want to tap that equity, here are some of best – and worst – ways to use it.

Home renovations

When your home has equity, it can be tempting to use it for home renovations, which, presumably, will further raise your home value – or at least make your home prettier or more functional. Knowing which renovations pay you back is key to making smart choices. Review Remodeling magazine’s Cost vs. Value Report, which “compares average cost for 29 popular remodeling projects with the value those projects retain at resale in 99 U.S. markets.” You can then take your research further, viewing data for your regional area. This will help you decide if that $50,000 kitchen is a good investment, or if that attic renovation you were considering will be a bust from an ROI standpoint.

A new car

That fancy new car is calling your name, right? Does it make sense to use some of your home equity to finance or buy it outright? Ask yourself this: Is this a car you can’t afford without using your home equity? Can you afford to pay the difference in your current monthly payment and what will be your new payment – plus the monthly cost of the car?

“During the housing bubble, consumers used home equity borrowing to pay for everything from boats and gambling junkets (clearly bad) to cars and kitchen renovations (not so bad), said Interest.com. “The problems these homeowners experienced during the financial crisis and recession taught us that even some ‘not so bad’ spending should be scratched from our list of acceptable uses. So, while we used to say that financing a car with a HELOC was OK, we no longer believe that. Besides, auto loans are now one of the few types of consumer loans that are cheaper than home equity loans or lines of credit.”


Additions

Adding on to a home can be a great way to make it more livable, especially if the space is inadequate for your family. The Cost vs. Value Report can be useful here, too. You might be surprised to learn that a midrange bathroom addition typically only pays back an average of 53.9%. But, if you bought an older home that only has one bathroom, adding another could have a much higher ROI that makes the addition worth it.

When it comes to larger undertakings, “Studies show that nearly all of the cost of a mid-range two-story addition may be recovered at the time of sale,” said The Spruce. “The key here is ‘may be recovered,’ as there is no predicting the real estate market years in advance. While this might seem like a ‘no-brainer,’ it needs to be mentioned. More space means higher heating and cooling costs, more windows to wash and gutters to clean, increased property taxes, and more house to clean. Even though additions offer the potential for higher cost-value ratios than other renovation projects, you still may not recover the full cost of the addition when you actually sell.”

Vacation

That European cruise or trip to Machu Picchu sounds like a great idea, especially because you’ve got some cash to pay for it with the rising equity in your home. But consider this: You may be paying back the money you spend on that vacation long after you return home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Jaymi Naciri

Easy Ways to Make Your Patio Look Great This Summer

Summer is the perfect time of year to be outside with family and friends. The cold weather, snow and rain are gone, and you see bright, sunny days ahead of you. If you’re getting ready for a season full of pool parties and barbecues, here’s everything you need to make your patio look great:

Update Your Furniture

It’s a new season with new trends, so you might be in the market for new patio furniture, or your old furniture just needs some updating. Chances are your cushions and pillows are looking faded, worn out and tattered from last year, so replace them with new cushions or fabric covers to match the rest of your decor. Don’t be afraid to go with bold and bright colors or big designs because they won’t dominate the area since it’s an open space.

You also need enough furniture and seating to fit your family and friends. Get a large round table or a long rectangular table for your guests to eat, snack and set down their drinks. Add extra chairs or a love seat around your table so you can add more people than your immediate family when you host a party. Go for items that are easy to clean so dust, dirt and spills don’t permanently ruin your furniture.

Make Some Shade

The summer sun can be intense, so you need shady areas to give yourself and your guests a break. Get a table with an umbrella in the middle to provide some shade while you’re eating dinner on the patio. Or add an umbrella on the top step of your pool or behind lounge chairs to stay cool.

If you want a larger shady area, set up a pavilion with a canopy roof in a section of your yard. Add chairs, side tables and a reading area underneath. You also can build a pergola and cover the top and sides with growing vines or climbing plants. This will add some color and nature to your patio as well as provide you with shade.

Light It Up

Transform your patio into a summer wonderland by lighting it up at night. Once the sun goes down and the temperature drops, you’ll want to relax on your patio with a nice cocktail or dessert with a lovely glow around you. For a touch of glamour, install an outdoor chandelier or light fixture over your patio table and chairs. String up hanging lights from the roof and side of your pergola to light up your ivy or plants. Put a few candles in translucent vases on side tables surrounding your other furniture or in the middle of your table. This is a great place for you to include some of your accent colors and add a delicate touch to sometimes bulky furniture.

Make It Party Ready

Now that you have the necessities, it’s time to get to the fun part. You want people to see your beautiful summer patio, so give them an excuse to come over for a party. Set up a grill, cooler for drinks and counter space to prepare and display your summertime treats. If it tends to get cool at night, get a table with a fire pit in the middle or build your own fire pit where you can roast s’mores and tell ghost stories. You also should invest in some lawn games and board games that you can play well into the night.

Written by Realty Times Staff

Easy Decluttering Tips To Give You Your Life Back

Cluttered Closet

Clutter doesn’t just make your space feel cramped and crowded and chaotic. It can also have a negative effect on your mental state and make you less productive. A cluttered space has been shown to raise stress levels, create anxiety, and be a contributing factor to sleepless nights.

Clutter can play a significant role in how we feel about our homes, our workplaces, and ourselves,” said Psychology Today. A few reasons why: “Clutter bombards our minds with excessive stimuli (visual, olfactory, tactile), causing our senses to work overtime on stimuli that aren’t necessary or important. Clutter distracts us by drawing our attention away from what our focus should be on. Clutter makes it more difficult to relax, both physically and mentally. Clutter inhibits creativity and productivity by invading the open spaces that allow most people to think, brain storm, and problem solve.”

Whether you’re looking to move and need to pare down your stuff before you list your house or are just looking to streamline your environment, these tips will help you get it done with the least amount of pain.

Phone a friend

So you’re sitting in your closet, surrounded by clothes you haven’t worn for years and you just can’t seem to make a move to get rid of anything. It’s time to call a good friend. Or three (Cue the scene from Sex and the City when Carrie et al hold an impromptu fashion show while cleaning out her closet.). A good friend will be honest with you about clothes that just don’t do it for you, which should make it easier to make headway.

Research shelters in your area

If you’re finding it hard to get rid of clothing and shoes or rarely- (or never-) used housewares, reading about some people that might really be in need of the things that have been packed in the back your closet or cabinets for years can help you get some perspective. When your need to hold onto something butts up against someone’s need to clothe themselves, packing up those donation boxes may get a whole lot easier.

Consider sizing

The average woman has a range of sizes of clothing in her closet, some for those inevitable times when a few pounds creep on, and some that were purchased as incentive to lose a few. If you can’t get rid of anything in your current size, maybe there are a few outdated items in the far upper and lower range that can hit the box.

Hit the linen closet

Have any hole-filled towels and sheets back in that linen closet? Tell yourself this: If they’re not good enough for guests, they’re not good enough for you. Shred a few of the towels into cleaning rags and dump the rest. Imagine how much better you’ll feel when there’s space for the stuff you do use.

Now, take a look at any blankets that have rips, tears, and holes. Maybe it’s time to upgrade? Beyond those obvious imperfections, what’s going on with the texture? Do you have blankets in there that aren’t soft enough for you or that you consistently overlook because you don’t like the way they feel? Donate them and treat yourself to something new as a reward for your decluttering efforts. Feel better?

Pilfer the pantry

When your pantry gets to be a cluttered mess, it can become an overwhelming task to get it cleaned out. Start small and take one thing at a time, like your canned goods. Chances are you have at least a few cans that are expired; those are easy enough to toss, which will make you feel better by creating space on a crowded shelf. Now, check for things that you know you’ll never eat, like those four cans of sweet peas you bought on sale. As long as they’re still good, these would be great to donate to a local food pantry. Good deed done, and you’re on your way to a nice, clean pantry.

Tackle those drawers

Out of sight, out of mind is the mantra many of us when it comes to clutter. If it’s in a drawer, you don’t have to worry about it, right? Until you do. Let’s be honest: How many of us have not just one junk drawer in the kitchen, but several. Guilty! And how many of us go to clean them out, only to create a much larger mess because we were trying to do too much in too little time and got overwhelmed and gave up. Guilty again. Starting small here, too, is the key. There’s no need to organize everything at once. Have expired coupons in one of those junk drawers? Get rid of them. You’re eating away at the mess. Do you have a bunch of nails and screws and thumbtacks just kind of strewn about in one (or more) of the drawers? Take them out and organize them into their own little box. That’s progress.

Get your papers in check

For many of us, the main clutter culprit is paper. Having stacks of papers in your kitchen or office (or both), or, even worse, stacked in multiple areas of your house, can be a stress-producer. Start by designating “a spot for incoming papers,” said Zen Habits. “Papers often account for a lot of our clutter. This is because we put them in different spots – on the counter, on the table, on our desk, in a drawer, on top of our dresser, in our car. No wonder we can’t find anything! Designate an in-box tray or spot in your home (or at your office, for that matter) and don’t put down papers anywhere but that spot. Got mail? Put it in the inbox. Got school papers? Put it in the inbox. Receipts, warranties, manuals, notices, flyers? In the inbox! This one little change can really transform your paperwork.”

You can also decrease the amount of mail you receive by setting up email-only correspondence with your creditors. Ecocycle also has some great tips for getting rid of a lot of that junk mail.

Give it a few minutes

Trying to attack the clutter from a macro perspective is what many people find overwhelming. If it seems like a massive project, that could be enough to cause frustration, increase anxiety, and cause you to quit. If you set aside a couple of minutes on any given day, you can make an impact without taxing yourself.

“When your home is filled with clutter, trying to tackle a mountain of stuff can be quite overwhelming,” said Zen Habits. “So here’s my advice: start with just five minutes. Baby steps are important. Sure, five minutes won’t barely make a dent in your mountain, but it’s a start. Celebrate when you’ve made that start! Then take another five minutes tomorrow. And another the next day. Before you know it, you’ll have cleared a whole closet or a room and then half your house and then who knows?”

If you don’t like the five-minute tip, try the five-thing tip. “Pick up 5 things, and find places for them,” they said. “These should be things that you actually use, but that you just seem to put anywhere, because they don’t have good places. If you don’t know exactly where things belong, you have to designate a good spot. Take a minute to think it through — where would be a good spot? Then always put those things in those spots when you’re done using them. Do this for everything in your home, a few things at a time.”

 

 

 

Build A Deck For Backyard Appeal

Outdoor appeal is a key piece to the home selling process. What better way to increase the exterior appeal than having a beautiful deck? Decks are living, natural additions that effectively blend into the landscape while adding extra entertaining space for less money than a porch or addition.

Need more convincing? Here are some of the key advantages to why decks seal backyard appeal and convince sellers to look at your home longer than others on the block:

How much you save: The cost to build a deck might average $6,600 to $9,400 depending on square footage and materials. However, a deck costs far less than an addition – almost $50,000 – so why invest more when you can get something just as beautiful for less?

An outdoor living area is less expensive because you don’t need electrical wiring or plumbing. Plus you can recoup at least 85% of that investment during the resale.

How it adds to the house: Adding a deck onto your home increases the exterior appeal without all the extra work. It means extra room for entertaining, relaxation and grilling during the summer.

It can adapt to any kind of landscape, whether you need a raised platform deck for a sloping hill and multi-story home or a short deck for a flat backyard.

How it blends with the landscape: Unlike a porch, a deck is natural. Made of wood or plastic to look like wood, decks blend into the landscape seamlessly. It’s simple to add bushes, trees and flowers around the edge of the deck. By the end of the whole process, your deck will have a warm, homey feel in the yard.

How easy it is to maintain: Depending on the type of material you use to build the deck, maintenance should be simple. One treatment of staining and regular cleaning should take care of any pests or dirt. Decks can handle most weather conditions, and you can even build an awning to help it endure the climate better. Just keep an eye out for termites, mold or other things eating away at the wood and treat them quickly.

 

So don’t wait! Add this beautiful, natural addition to your home and get those sellers flocking to your backyard.

 

 

 

 

Written by Andrea Davis

Organizing Your Home

Just follow this list for an easy path to organized spaces.

Happy New Year! Have you noticed most of your resolutions are action-oriented? Walk 10,000 steps a day. Fix that leaky faucet.

But “get organized”? It’s a goal so broad that just trying to figure out what action to take makes you wonder what you were thinking in the first place. It’s like you need an organizing plan for your organizing.

Ta da

Here it is. Follow these steps, spending less than an hour day (sometimes just a few moments), to a better organized home:

  1. Do That Project

“What about your space is making you feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed?” asks Amy Trager, a professional organizer in Chicago. Is it the paperwork disaster in your office? The pile of clothes teetering on your dresser? Or that mess that surrounds your doorway? Start with what’s annoying you, she says. One hour on that task will get your organizing engine revving.

  1. Create a “Go Away” Box

Put anything you’re planning to donate in it (or give to a friend, or take to recycle). And keep it by the door so you can easily grab it when you’re leaving.

  1. Deal With the Decorations

Hallelujah — the holidays are over! When you’re putting away your décor, donate anything you didn’t bring out last season, and separate decorations by holiday. No need to dig through your St. Patty’s clovers when you’re searching for a menorah.

  1. Create a System for Your Entryway

Set up a “command center” so your front door doesn’t become a lawless accessories arena, especially during winter months. Add hooks for coats, bins for shoes, and a mail sorter if you need it. (Remember to keep a place for your “go away” box).Organized Spaces

  1. Wrangle Your Pet Supplies

Minimize the time spent scrambling when your pup is desperate for a walk or eager for a meal. Hang hooks and cubbies near the door and keep leashes, kibble, bowls, and toys in one convenient spot.

  1. Organize Your Spices

Arrange your herbs and spices alphabetically, by cuisine, or by brand — whatever makes them easier to find when you’re in the middle of your noodle stir fry.

  1. Pare Down Your Utensils

You’ve accumulated several dozen kitchen utensils in your culinary career: can openers, microplanes, four (what?!) wine openers. Pare down the collection and use drawer dividers to keep the remainders in order.

  1. Reconfigure Your Pots and Pans

Stop digging around in your shelves for the oversized, cast-iron skillet. Donate the pots and pans you hardly use, and install cupboard organizers to help manage the rest.

  1. Throw Away Expired Foods

You never use Worcestershire sauce — except that one time. Go through your refrigerator and pantry and ditch or donate anything past its prime.

  1. Stack Your Pantry Staples

Make better use of your pantry by sorting through your staple dry goods — think flour, sugar, pasta, oatmeal, dry beans — and putting them in airtight, stackable containers. You’ll free up a ton of space, too.

  1. Downsize Your Kitchen Gadgets

You had noble intentions when you purchased that spiralizer. (Zucchini noodles every night, right?) Give those space hogs to someone else with lofty dreams.

  1. Say No to Coffee Mug Over-Saturation

Every time you lose a sock, a new coffee mug appears. Keep one or two mugs for every coffee or tea drinker, and donate the rest.

  1. Sort Your Food Storage Containers

No singles allowed. Toss any tops or bottoms that have no mates.

  1. Reassess Your Display ShelvesOrganized Storage Cubbies

Shelves crammed with knickknacks, books you’ll never read, and stuff you somehow accumulated are just a waste of space. Donate books to the library, discard the junk, and arrange what’s left in a way that pleases you.

  1. Deal With Your Cables

With a Roku, PlayStation, DVD player, and a cable box, it’s no surprise your entertainment center is a mess. Create ID tags for each plug from bread tags or cable ties, and bundle the clutter together with velcro strips.

  1. Put Clothes on New Hangers

Switch your clothes over to the slimmer, grabbier hangers. They use less space and keep your clothes from sliding down to your closet floor. As you do this, discard the clothes you never wear.

  1. Corral Your Accessories

Belts, scarves, purses, hats — all the accessories that don’t have a drawer or spot in the closet can end up everywhere. Buy an accessories hanger or install a simple series of hooks to give your wardrobe’s smallest members a home.

  1. Purge Under the Bed

Under-bed storage is ideal for out-of-season clothing. But when out-of-season becomes out-of-sight and out-of-mind, clear out those clothes you’ll never wear again from this precious storage space.

  1. Declutter Your Desk

When your workspace is swimming with collectibles, staplers, Post-its, and more, paring down can keep you focused when it’s time to hunker down.

 Shred Old Paperwork

Not every form, statement, and tax record needs to stay in your filing cabinet forever. Check out this list to make sure you’re not wasting space. Shred the rest to ward off identity thieves.

  1. Tidy Your Files

Now that you’ve shredded the paperwork you don’t need, tidy up your files by organizing them and labeling them clearly. Colorful folders can help organize by theme (home stuff, tax stuff, work stuff, etc.).

  1. Get Rid of Mystery Electronics

Admit it. You’ve got a drawer where black mystery cords, chargers, and oddball electronic bits go to die. Free that drawer up for better uses, or at least get rid of the ones you know for sure are “dead.”

  1. Pare Down Your Personal Care Stuff

Your intentions were honorable when you bought that curl-enhancing shampoo — but it expired two years ago, and you haven’t used it since. Throw away any expired potions, salves, hair products, and medicines.

  1. Tackle Under-the-Sink Storage

Clean everything out. You’ll be amazed at what you find (like those Magic Erasers you could never find). Then put back everything you’re keeping in bins you can easily pull out so nothing gets lost again.

  1. Hang a Shelf

Wall storage is so often overlooked. Find a spot in your home where a shelf would solve a problem, and hang it. Maybe it’s for some toiletries in the bathroom, or laundry supplies, or for your kid’s stuffed toys.

  1. Reduce Your Towels and Linens

There are the towels you use — and the stack of towels you never use. Donate them to the animal shelter. Those torn pillowcases? Convert to rags or toss. Same for napkins, dishtowels, pot holders, etc.

 27.  Hang a Shoe Organizer

Hanging shoe organizers can solve a ton of storage problems beyond the obvious. They can store scarves, mittens, cleaning supplies, craft supplies. You can even cut them to custom-fit inside a cabinet door.

  1. Organize Your Junk Drawer for GoodOrganized Junk Drawer

There’s no shame in a junk drawer — but why not organize it? Dump the whole thing on one surface and sort everything into piles. Use drawer dividers to keep each pile in its own space.

  1. Store Your Tools the Right Way

Finding the right Phillips-head screwdriver to put together that cute IKEA bookshelf shouldn’t be so hard. Track down your hammers and screwdrivers, and arrange them in one easy-to-access spot, such as a pegboard.

  1. Plan for the Future

See how much you’ve accomplished! Take a look around your newly organized home, making note of any spaces you missed. Then dream a bit about your next home project. Maybe paint that dining room, finally?

Jamie Wiebe

6 Materials to Never Use in Your Kitchen Remodel

Here’s what to avoid, what to choose for your kitchen remodel.

Ready for a kitchen remodel? Unless you’re cool with treating the hardest working room in your house like a museum exhibit, resist the temptation to buy the cheapest or shiniest materials available and go for durable options that can stand up to regular abuse. Trust us: Although it may be tough to leave that raised, tempered glass bar top (ooo!) in the showroom, repairing its first (and second, and third) chip will get old. Very fast.

Picking the right materials is easy if you do your homework. “There are amazing products out there,” says Jeffrey Holloway, a certified kitchen designer and owner of Holloway Home Improvement Center in Marmora, N.J. “You’re looking at price point, sanitation, how easy it is to clean the product, its durability and maintenance.”

Keeping those all-important features in mind, here are some materials to avoid during your next kitchen remodel.

  1. Plastic Laminate Counters

 

Great KitchensFirst off, there’s plenty of great laminate out there. It’s the entry-level, plastic laminate to stay away from, Holloway says. These are the ones that look thin and dull, as opposed to richly textured. They scratch easily, and if the product underneath the laminate gets wet (say, from steam rising from your dishwasher), it can delaminate the countertop, which means the edges will chip pretty easily. Also, one misplaced hot pan on the plastic will result in a melted disaster zone you’ll remember forever.

But if you’re watching your budget, plastic laminate at the next level up is a good choice. “It’s got good color consistency, and there are a lot of retro and trendy patterns available,” says Dani Polidor, an interior designer and owner of Suite Artistry, and a REALTOR® in Pittsford, N.Y.

New laminate counter technology offers scratch resistance, textured surfaces, and patterns that mimic real wood and stone. “There are even self-repairing nano-technologies embedded in some laminates,” says Polidor, “and others have antimicrobial properties.”

For an average 10-by-20-foot kitchen, the next-level-up laminate will cost about $3,000, Polidor estimates, and those super cool technology options add another $200 to $300. For durability and longer life, the investment is well worth it.

 

  1. Inexpensive Sheet Vinyl Flooring

     

You spend all day stepping on your floor, so quality really matters. At the lower price point, about $2.50 per square foot, the cheapest sheet vinyl floorings tend to be thin. “If your vinyl floor is Tigerwood By Jcwalker3rd (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commonsglued down and the underlayment gets delaminated, say, by water seeping from your dishwasher or refrigerator, you’ll get bubbles in your floor,” Holloway warns.

Compare that with luxury vinyl tile (LVT) that costs about $5 per square foot. It’s still usually glued down, but it’s a little more forgiving than its less classy cousin — and it can come in tiles, which you can grout so they mimic the look of higher-end stone, Polidor says.

  1. Some Laminated Cabinet Fronts

Holloway suggests staying away from lower-end thermofoil cabinet fronts. What is thermofoil? Contrary to its name, there’s no foil or any metal-type material in it. It’s actually vinyl, which is heated and molded around fiberboard. If the cabinet is white and the price is waaaaay affordable compared with other cabinets, think twice. Cheaper thermofoil has three critical issues:

  1. It’s not heat resistant. If near a dishwasher or oven, it could delaminate.
  2. It can warp and yellow with age, revealing its cheapness.
  3. The “wood” underneath the thermofoil is also poor quality and won’t hold up over time.

But just like with plastic laminate, science has made great strides, and now there are a host of new cabinets that are remaking thermofoil’s reputation. “New European laminates have become all the rage for the clean-lined, flat-panel look,” Polidor says. “It’s budget-friendly and can look like wood or high gloss. It’s not your grandmother’s thermofoil.”

And it doesn’t come at grandma’s prices, either. But still, the new thermofoil is much more affordable than custom cabinets, and still satisfies with its rich look and durability.

  1. High-Gloss Lacquered Cabinets

Lacquer Cabinets

A nice shine can be eye-catching. And spendy. About 20 layers of lacquer go on a cabinet for the high-gloss look. Ding it or scratch it, and it’s costly to repair.

“It’s a multi-step process for repairing them,” Polidor says. A better option for the same look is high-end thermofoil (see? We said there were good thermofoil options!). Thermofoil has a finish that’s fused to the cabinet and baked on for a more durable exterior. And it’s way more budget-friendly, too. High-gloss can be in the thousands of dollars, whereas thermofoil can be in the hundreds of dollars.

 

 

  1. Flat Paint

Flat paint has that sophisticated, velvety, rich look we all love. But keep it in the bedroom. It’s not KF (kitchen-friendly). Flat paint, also known as matte paint, has durability issues. It’s unstable. Try to wipe off one splatter of chili sauce, and you’ve ruined the paint job. About the only place to use flat paint in your kitchen is on the ceiling (unless, of course, you have a reputation for blender or pressure-cooker accidents that reach to the ceiling, then we suggest takeout).

Instead, you want to use high-gloss or semi-gloss paint on your walls. They can stand up to multiple scrubbings before breaking down.

  1. Trendy Backsplash MaterialsTrendy Backsplash

Tastes change. So avoid super trendy colors and materials when it comes to permanently adhering something to your kitchen walls. Backsplashes come in glass, metal, iridescent, and high-relief decor tiles, which are undoubtedly fun and tempting. They can also be expensive, ranging from $5 to $220 a square foot, and difficult to install. And after all that work and expense, if (er … when) your tastes change in a few years, it’ll be mighty tough to justify a re-do.

Stick with a classic subway tile at $2 to $3 square foot. Or, even more budget friendly, choose an integrated backsplash that matches your countertop material. “If you want pops of color, do it with accessories,” Polidor suggests.

Written by: Stacey Freed

 

Room for Improvement When You Sell Your Home

hccor-raney-richardson-neutral-living_lg

Sell Your Home

If you’re getting ready to sell your house, you may not have extra cash to spend on home improvements.  But some basic improvements can be inexpensive, and the results are worth it.  Minor upgrades, such as painting the living room or changing the hardware on kitchen cabinets, can make a house much more attractive.  Consider these simple ideas from Frontdoor.com and HGTV.

 

Flowers for LandscapingYard Sale: When buyers pull up to your home, the first thing they’ll notice is the front yard.  Improve your homes’ curb appeal by brightening it with flowers.  Place ceramic pots with colorful blooms on either side of the front door for a warm welcome.  If the front door looks worn from the elements, spruce it up with a fresh coat of paint.

 

 

Under Counter Lights

Joanne Jakab Interior Design

See the Light:  Proper lighting can help make your home more inviting and comfortable to buyers visiting your home.  Assess the ambiance to determine where there could be more, less, softer, or stronger light.  For instance, kitchens often have useless dark spaces under cabinets.  Consider installing under-cabinet lighting, which will brighten up cooking space while adding a dramatic effect to the kitchen.

Brush Up: A new coat of paint can change the entire look and feel of a room.  Choose neutral colors that appeal to a wide range of tastes and easily blend with many styles of home decor.  Neutral color schemes also allow buyers to envision their own personal style in a new home.  Consider beige, light gray or bone white to create a warm and comfortable living space.

CRS (Council of Residential Specialists)

Grand Entrance

 

Would You Like a Mudroom?

 

Storage Cubbies

The word “Mud” might not sound inviting, but a mudroom can actually be a welcoming – and useful – space.  Mudrooms, which serve as a transition between the outdoors and the inside of a home, are traditionally found in cold, snowy climates as a place to change out of wet clothes and shoes.  But, whether large or small, they’re ideal for houses in any climate.  The can minimize cleaning (no tracking dirt through the house), maximize storage and help with organization.  Whether you already have a mudroom or are thinking about creating one, consider:

 

  • Location:  Off the kitchen or near the back door are the most popular locations for mudrooms, but garages and utility closets are also prime spots.
  • Flooring:  This is the one place in the house where the floors are supposed to get dirty.  Choose a durable, non-slip material, tile, Mudroom storage
  • stone, vinyl, laminate, concrete in a dark color.  And be sure to include a few doormats: a fiber or rubber mat to clean off shoes and an absorbent, washable rug to keep dirt form getting tracked in.
  • Walls: Surely they will get dinged and scratched and splashed so choose coverings wisely.  Vinyl wallpaper or an easy-to-clean, moisture-proof paint should do the trick.
  • Seating: Although you likely won’t be spending too much time in your mudroom, a place to sit is key.  A sturdy chair or bench is useful for removing wet shoes or boots.
  • Storage: Choose organizing accessories based on the main purpose of the space and who uses it most.  If it functions mainly as a staging area for adults, be sure to prominently feature coat and key hooks, as well as a place to sort mail.  If kids are the main focus, include labeled storage bins and designated areas for backpacks and after-school activity gear, such as sporting goods.  No matter how the room is used, it’s a good idea to include plenty of shelving and racks for shoes.