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Blog Category - Home Owner Tips

Understanding home insulation

Categories: Home Owner Tips | Posted: December 7, 2017

Every homeowner knows that insulating a home is important for comfort and energy efficiency. But it’s equally important to understand how home insulation works so you ensure you’re taking the right steps to effectively prevent the swap of interior and exterior temperatures.

Insulation provides resistance to heat flow. Heat flow is the movement of warm or hot air to cooler air. The flow continues until there is a balance of temperatures. For example, hot air will continue to flow into your home on a hot day until the inside temperature is equal to the outside. On a pleasant spring or fall day, you might open up the windows to take advantage of the ideal temperature. When the weather is more extreme, however, you need to manage the heat flow.

When you buy a new home, insulation is installed to slow down the movement of heat. Now, heat flow moves in three ways:

  • Conduction: Heat moves through a material, like a metal pot absorbing heat.
  • Convection: Heat circulates through liquids and gases, and since hot air is lighter, it rises above cold air.
  • Radiation: Heat travels along a straight path and absorbs energy from anything along that route.

So, your home insulation is installed in any place with exposure to heat flow: exterior walls, around the foundation, and in the roof, to name a few. Without insulation, the heat will move through the walls, floors, and ceilings—up from the basement, down from the attic, and in through the walls, doors, and windows. The goal of insulation is to produce resistant to the natural flow of heat.

R-value: The resistance factor

Home insulation products are rated for their thermal resistance factor, commonly known as R-value. This measurement is determined by the insulation type, thickness, and density. To determine how much home insulation you need, refer to a map that shows the R-value zones, rated on a scale from 1 to 7, with colder climates on the high end. Southern Florida and Hawaii score a 1 rating, while Alaska and northern Minnesota earn a 7.

You probably hear about radiant barriers. This reflective material doesn’t absorb heat, like insulation does. Instead, it reflects the heat. Radiant barriers are commonly installed on roofs to deflect the heat away from the roof (where it can be absorbed and potentially pass into the main part of the home). According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a radiant barrier on a home in a sunny climate (e.g., Zones 1-3) can reduce cooling costs by 5% to 10%.

Retrofitting an existing home with the correct amount of insulation could require a professional, depending on where and what type of insulation you need. New homes incorporate the standards for home insulation. They also improve the comfort and energy efficiency in a new home by installing moisture control and air sealing.

Spend a little time learning about your home’s insulation and you’ll spend much less later on the energy costs.

Garage organization: De-cluttering and storage tips

Categories: Home Owner Tips, Interior Design | Posted: November 9, 2017

The garage is probably one of the most preferred stash places in your home. The attic is great, but it can be difficult to access. The basement is good, if you have one, but you might worry about dampness. Or you have a finished basement that’s already full.

Rather than continue to pack and stack boxes and bury items so deep that they are essentially lost, spend some time reorganizing your garage. Take back the space! Here are some de-cluttering and storage tips for garage organization.

  • Start with a blank canvas. Remove all the clutter from the garage. Otherwise, you will be shifting things around, not truly organizing them. Sort things out as you go. Set up bins for “Discard”, “Donate”, and “Keep”. Eliminate all items that really aren’t worthy of valuable space (like your t-shirt collection from the 80s). Will you ever repair that broken thingamajig? Be honest with yourself. If these things are buried in your garage, are they worth keeping? Once the garage is empty, sweep and clean the floor. An empty garage is perfect for cleaning the various stains and repairing cracks. You might even consider painting the floor for a really fresh start.
  • Plan the storage zones. Think about the uses of your garage: tools, car care supplies, seasonal décor and clothing, sports gear, lawn and garden care, and paint/home repair, to name a few. You probably also need an area for your trash and recycling. Once you determine the storage zones, choose the most suitable place for each, based on the frequency of use. Label each area so you know where everything will go, and you can visibly see the flow from zone to zone.
  • Design the storage spaces. Your garage offers many options for creating storage zones. In addition to the walls, you have the overhead area where you can attach hooks and shelves. You can install cabinets and pegboards. Explore the local home centers to get ideas for smart storage systems. Invest in a lockable cabinet to store potentially hazardous items (chemicals, sharp tools).
  • Respect the new and improved space. Place the items from your “Keep” stash in the designated storage zones. Give all household members a tour of the new and improved garage and remind them that your garage storage system must be maintained.

Look at your calendar and schedule a weekend for garage organization. Use the reward of not just having a perfectly organized garage but also finding the treasures that have been long lost in the clutter!

Look ahead at kitchen cabinetry trends for 2018

Categories: Home Design Trends, Home Owner Tips, Interior Design | Posted: October 26, 2017

One of the first things people notice when they walk into your kitchen are the cabinets. Your choice is a major factor in both the aesthetics and the function of this all-important room. Before you decide on the kitchen cabinets for your new home or renovation, consider some of the style shifts happening. Here’s a look ahead at kitchen cabinetry trends for 2018.

You can never go wrong with white or light. White, off-white, and light gray continue to dominate kitchen cabinet colors. The brightness these neutral tones bring to your kitchen is unbeatable, and they work with just about any color you want in the room.

Mix and match. You don’t have to choose just one color for your cabinets. Kitchen designers are leaning toward one color for the base and another for the wall, or a complementary color for the island.

Put more behind the doors. Today’s (and tomorrow’s) cabinets are more efficient than their ancestors were. Pull-out drawers and shelves enable more efficient usage. A narrow, vertical cabinet door can hide a sliding spice rack or pull-out holder for trays, cookie sheets, and racks. Deep drawers provide more convenient access to your dishes.

Raise your cabinet standards. You know that gap between the top of your cabinets and the kitchen ceiling where you either display things or stash them? Cabinetry is now reaching to the ceiling, a design trend that gives the perception of a bigger room.

Show-offs. Glass doors on some of your upper cabinets allow you to proudly display your most eye-catching pieces, like crystal, pottery, dishware, and kitchen collectibles.

I know the fridge is here somewhere. If you find the front of your refrigerator or microwave a bit disruptive, you’ll appreciate the trend toward masking them with a door that matches your kitchen cabinets.

Mix in a few shelves. Open, “floating” shelves in a contrasting material—like rustic wood with white cabinetry—and a few less cabinets add an airy feeling to the kitchen.

Unjunk your junk drawers. The kitchen drawers are now featuring dividers and even multiple tiers to make organization easier than ever. Whether you’re separating silverware or the mounds of miscellany, these new and improved kitchen drawers are the clutterbug’s new best friend.

Park your appliance in a cabinet garage. Homeowners want a tidier look to their kitchen, so a place to store your small appliances (toaster, coffee maker, mixer, juicer) out of sight, but not out of reach, is essential.

Accessorize. Kitchen cabinets are being finished with more accents that resemble fine furniture. Decorative corbels, carved feet, moldings, and arches are easy ways to embellish your kitchen’s style.

You spend a lot of time in your kitchen. Why not make it as stylish as every other room in your home?

Tips for choosing the right wall colors for your home

Categories: Home Design Trends, Home Owner Tips, Interior Design | Posted: October 12, 2017

For some people, changing colors in a room is like changing your hairstyle. It’s nice to try something different—and it’s easy enough to change back if you don’t like the result. For others, the prospect of switching is a scary proposition.

Painting a room is one of the most affordable ways to make a big change in your home. The only hard part can be the color choice. Looking at the array of paint chips in the store can be overwhelming. Before you head there, narrow down your choices.

Here are some tips for choosing the right wall colors for your home.

Look at your wardrobe. What colors do you like to wear? That’s a big clue to your color preferences. If you’re drawn to neutral colors, you’re comfortable with those soft shades, making this palette a smart choice for your interior walls. If your penchant for lime green or sunshine orange feels too daring for your walls, tone it down a bit.

Inspect your photos, artwork, and other accents. What colors prevail? You chose these decorative pieces for the message they communicate, but was color a factor as well?

Pull the paint color from a print. You might have a favorite pillow, upholstered chair, or even table linens. Zoom in on the shades that might work well on your wall. Take the fabric to the paint store and ask them to match it.

Use a color wheel. See how colors relate to each other. A color wheel gives insight into the hues that work harmoniously together. You might like a monochromatic color scheme, with variations of a particular color (lightness and saturation). A complementary color scheme uses colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel, usually a warm and a cool one (yellow and blue, for example). An analogous color scheme combines colors that are next to each other, like blue and green, or orange and red, and varying shades of those colors. There are several other options for color schemes, but this will get you started. Once you choose the color scheme, you build your palette of specific colors.

Check out color trends. Home décor colors are like fashion. They change with the seasons and the years. Greenery was the 2017 Pantone Color of the Year. The foliage-inspired shade is like a springtime refresh. Home décor watchers are expecting 2018 interior color palettes to move from pastels to more intense hues. With palettes named “Far-fetched”, ”Resourceful”, and “Resourceful”, you might find one to suit your taste.

Think holistically. Your house is a sum of its parts, which includes your wall colors. Make sure you have smooth flow from room to room. This is where organizing a whole-house color palette will help.

Which is the best smart home assistant?

Categories: Home Owner Tips | Posted: September 30, 2017

If your name is Alexa and you’re an actual person, you’re probably getting asked a lot more questions these days. ”Alexa, what time is it?” “Alexa, when is the next full moon?” “Alexa, how far is it to the nearest coffee shop?”

And you can thank Amazon for this annoyance.

Amazon launched the Echo in 2015 in the U.S. This cylindrical speaker connects to a voice-activated, computer-generated, smart home assistant named Alexa. Alexa is capable of answering questions (when properly phrased), playing music, acting as a timer or alarm clock, requesting an Uber ride, checking your calendar, making lists, reading audiobooks aloud, and reciting the news and weather updates. Of course, Alexa can also place your Amazon orders, too.

Yes, Alexa is smart, but is she the best smart home assistant for you?

Google Home emerged soon after Echo, and at a lower price point, while offering the same type of assistance. The Echo Dot, a hockey-puck-sized version of the larger Echo, gives you a very affordable entry into the smart home assistant experience.

If you want the most accurate “intelligence”, Google Home appears to have a slight edge. Digital agency Stone Temple quizzed both devices. Google Home was able to answer 3,383 questions, while Alexa was only able to answer 1,030. Of those responses, Google Home was correct 89.5% of the time, and Alexa achieved 86.9% accuracy. Alexa relies primarily on Wikipedia for information, while Google reaches a wider range of third-party sources, like Google Maps for checking traffic conditions.

Google Home can also remember your last question. So, if you ask, “Who won the last Super Bowl?” and followed up with “What was the score?”, you’d get both answers. With Alexa, your second question would have to be, “What was the score of the last Super Bowl?”

Amazon Echo, however, currently has the edge on managing your smart home devices, like your thermostat, lighting, security, home entertainment, and appliances, but Google Home is gaining ground. Compare the Alexa-enabled smart home devices with Google Home’s list of supported devices and partners.

Google Home will also connect your videos, photos, and television, via Chromecast. You can even tell it to skip ahead 30 seconds on a video, and show photos of a selected person, location or time period. Alexa isn’t quite as savvy.

Both Google Home and Echo offer hands-free calling. Tell them to call a contact from your list or ask your smart home assistant to find a phone number.

Apple is finally responding to the demand for the smart home assistant. The Apple HomePod is scheduled to launch before the end of the year. It promises to have superior audio, but like all Apple products, will also emerge in limited quantities and at a higher price than Google Home and Amazon Echo.

Home energy efficiency ratings, explained.

Categories: Home Owner Tips | Posted: September 15, 2017

Energy efficiency is one of the top priorities for homeowners. No one wants to waste energy (or money) on a home, appliances, or systems when there are ways to avoid it.

You’ve probably seen many of the ratings systems and codes tossed around, but do you know what they mean? Here’s a quick guide to the most common energy efficiency ratings and how to interpret the scores.

HERS. The Home Energy Rating System (HERS) measures the energy efficiency of a home and assigns a performance score. This rating is based on the efficiency of a standard new home. A home that was built according to the 2004 International Energy Conservation Code receives a HERS score of 100.

The survey, which must be conducted by a certified HERS professional, examines your home’s construction and systems:

  • Ceilings and roofs
  • Exterior walls, both above and below grade
  • Attics, foundations, and crawl spaces
  • Garage and basement floors (over unconditioned spaces)
  • Windows, doors, vents, and ductwork
  • HVAC, water heating system, and thermostats

A score of 70 indicates that your home is 30% more energy efficient than a standard new home. U.S. Department of Energy estimates that an average resale home has a score of 130, meaning a home that is 30% less efficient than the standard.

The program was developed by RESNET (The Residential Energy Services Network), which created the training and certification standards for HERS Raters and Home Energy Survey Professionals. Look for a RESNET qualified home energy professional to conduct a HERS survey.

What this means to you: The lower the HERS score, the greater your energy savings. A score of 80 or below might qualify you for an energy-efficient mortgage and increase your home’s resale value.

ENERGY STAR. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency developed this program in 1992 to assess the energy efficiency of products, systems, and even buildings. ENERGY STAR certification can be awarded to anything from a major appliance to a light bulb, from your central air conditioning system to a ceiling fan. Even those strings of holiday lights are measured for energy efficiency. Your home’s electronics account for 21% of your annual energy usage, so all those televisions, external power adapters, printers, and small appliances account for a significant amount of the overall expense. Compare that to your major appliances, which constitute about 12% of the annual usage.

ENERGY STAR certification is awarded after a third-party organization tests and verifies that the product or home meets the stringent requirements of the program. An ENERGY STAR-rated home is evaluted with a HERS index, as well as other criteria.

What this means to you: The average annual energy cost for a single-family home is estimated at $2,060. By investing in ENERGY STAR products and systems, you can lower your cost and contribute to preserving our natural resources.

SEER. The Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) was established by the U.S. Department of Energy to identify the efficiency and operating costs of air conditioners. SEER is a measurement of the total cooling output (measured in BTUs) divided by the total energy used for that output—similar to the MPG rating for a car. A higher SEER rating indicates a more efficient air conditioner.

In 1992, a SEER 10 was the standard, but that rating was increased to 13 in 2006. A central air conditioning system was required to have a minimum 14.5 to qualify for ENERGY STAR.

What this means to you: The higher the SEER, the greater the energy efficiency. A higher SEER will cost more to purchase, but can save you up to 40% in cooling costs.

Yes, you DO need a home theater system

Categories: Home Owner Tips | Posted: September 1, 2017

Televisions keep getting bigger and “smarter”. Video streaming selections keep getting broader and better. Siri, Alexa, and Google make it easier than ever to find the movies and programs you want,

A home theater system is no longer a matter of enjoying the occasional movie in the comfort of your home. Today, it’s how people are experiencing entertainment—from sports to movies to everyday programs

So, if you’ve been wondering whether you should invest in expanding your viewing quality, the answer is, yes, you DO need a home theater system.

To retrofit your current home with an integrated home theater system, you’ll need more than televisions. Preferably, speakers are fit into the wall, rather than exterior speakers mounted on them, and cables must be run to give you the connectivity. For true surround sound, you’ll be installing a speaker in the ceiling as well.

Are you considering a move to a new home? If you’re building from the ground up, adding a home theater is not complicated. Your builder can work the design and infrastructure into the plans so that it fits seamlessly. This opportunity also allows the homebuyer to expand the system into more rooms. For example, add the viewing to your kitchen, where your family and guests often congregate, and install a wall-mounted television for your outdoor living space.

A home theater system isn’t as complicated or expensive as you might think. In addition to the televisions, you’ll need a home theater receiver (also known as AV receiver or surround sound receiver) with Bluetooth connectivity, and the speakers. You might also want to consider the lighting in your media room. It’s easy to add dimmer switches for the existing light fixtures. Do you need room darkening shades?

You can expand your technology from the basics, depending on your desired home theater experience. Here’s a great guide to all the bells and whistles.

Are you ready to go from renter to homeowner?

Categories: Home Owner Tips | Posted: August 17, 2017

For the past few years, you might have been watching the real estate market with interest, but didn’t feel ready to make the leap from renter to homeowner. You can still take advantage of low interest rates.

Why are you hesitating?

Here are some telltale signs you might be more ready than you think.

You’ve been paying rent on time for years. That monthly payment shows you’re responsible, and that you’re used to committing a sizeable sum each month to your living expenses. When you consider that your monthly mortgage payment could be even less than your rent, then you should feel confident that you can handle it.

You have a secure job. You’re getting good performance reviews and your employer is in a solid position, possibly even growing. If you like your job and see your future there, you have the job security that’s important when you commit to a mortgage.

Your credit is good. A good FICO score is 700 or higher, but you can get a loan with a lower credit score, as long as your debt-to-income ratio is within the acceptable range (e.g., your total debt is less than 30% of your annual income). The higher your credit score, the better you will do, both in terms of how much you can borrow and at what rate. Talk to a lender about mortgage pre-approval so you know where you stand before you start your new home search. Many lenders can give you direction for improving your credit score to qualify for the home you want.

You know what you want in a home—and it’s probably not roommates (or parents). You’re becoming more aware of home designs, wandering through home centers, and exploring neighborhoods. You’re imagining yourself as a homeowner, instead of seeing it as a distant reality.

Seeing is believing. That image of homeownership could be closer than you think. Talk to a real estate professional and a lender to explore your options. You’ll never know if you’re ready to buy a home if you don’t make the move!

5 Outdoor kitchen trends for 2017

Categories: Home Owner Tips | Posted: July 27, 2017

Outdoor living spaces have evolved dramatically in the past decade. The backyard grill has transformed to an outdoor kitchen, complete with everything you need to prepare, serve, and clean up after full-course meals.

Thinking of updating your al fresco culinary space? Here are the latest outdoor kitchen trends for 2017.

Expand the function. A kitchen requires more than a grill and a prep area. This year, homeowners are adding refrigerators, ice makers, sinks, dishwashers, side burners, smokers, and pizza ovens, so they can handle all the kitchen tasks outdoors, and avoid running in and out of the house. They’re installing more elaborate cabinetry for the added storage they need in the expanded outdoor kitchen (powder-coated metal cabinets offer style with durability). They’re adding or upgrading countertops, with materials like granite, soapstone, concrete, and stainless steel. Quartz, although a popular choice for the indoor kitchen, doesn’t stand up to direct sunlight.

Hatch an egg. The Kamado-style grill—like the Big Green Egg—has caught on in recent years, but the concept has been in use for thousands of years. These versatile ceramic grills can be used as a smoker, grill, and even a pizza oven. The design enables a broad range of cooking temperatures, from low (for smoking) all the way up to 800°.

Entertainment is a bigger priority than ever. You’ll be spending more time in your upgraded space, so your outdoor kitchen might include a separate bar or drink station, a large-screen television, wine cooler, and keg.

Fan the flames. An outdoor fireplace or fire pit add form and function to your outdoor living space. Cook over the open flame. Cozy up by the crackling fire. Mount your outdoor TV above the fireplace mantle. What better place to enjoy football games in the fall?

Chandeliers have stepped outside. While you’re installing or expanding the electrical wiring in your outdoor living space, now is a great time to change your exterior lighting. Chandeliers have found their way outdoors, and enhance the aesthetics.

Most commonly overlooked home maintenance chores

Categories: Home Owner Tips | Posted: July 13, 2017

Owning a home comes with lots of responsibilities. In addition to paying the bills, you also need to keep up with the upkeep. There are some basic, routine maintenance chores that will increase your peace of mind while also decreasing the repair bills that come with neglect.

Here are the most commonly overlooked home maintenance chores.

CLEAN…

Gutters. Dirt and debris builds up in your gutters and prohibits the flow of rain and melted snow. If the water backs up, it can cause damage to your home. Clean your gutters in both the spring and the fall.

Exterior dryer vent. You might remember to clean the dryer’s lint trap after every load, but don’t forget that lint is also collecting in the exterior vent. A clogged dryer vent is a fire hazard. Have your exterior vent checked and cleaned once a year, or when you notice that your laundry isn’t drying properly.

Refrigerator coils. Dust collects on the coils on the back of your refrigerator, reducing the appliance’s efficiency. Twice a year, summon up your courage and go where very few people ever venture.

REPLACE…

Curled or damaged roof shingles. Twice a year, inspect your roof as a proactive measure. Replace any shingles that aren’t in stellar condition, because ignoring this task could lead to leaks.

HVAC filters. A dirty filter makes your air conditioner and furnace work harder, which not only boosts your energy bill but reduces the air quality and the life of your HVAC system. Replace the air filtert monthly.

 

DRAIN

Water heaters. Sediment—sand, grit, and other minerals that haven’t dissolved into your water—collect at the bottom of your water heater. By flushing the water heater once a year, you enable your system to function at its best.

Outdoor faucets. Water expands when it freezes, and this ice can lead to burst pipes. Before the cold winter arrives, turn off the shut-off valve and drain any water remaining in the line.

CHECK…

Water pressure. Excess water pressure can burst hoses (e.g., washing machine). Low water pressure causes that rush of cold water in the shower when someone flushes a toilet. Use a simple pressure gauge to check your water pressure once or twice a year, or when you’re experiencing water flow issues.

Invest a little time in your home to keep everything working safely and efficiently. After all, you’ve invested so much in it already.