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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.

10 ideas for a pet-friendly home

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

Your pet is part of your family, so make sure your furry friends feel like they’re also part of your home. Here are 10 ideas for pet-friendly home.

  1. Remove temptation. Dogs and cats have a powerful sense of smell, so they’re drawn to fragrant items and places, which could include your garbage, pantry, and countertops. Keep a strong lid on your trash can and keep food out of the reach of pets. Remember, certain foods are toxic to dogs and cats, like grapes, raisins, chocolate, onions, mushrooms, and xylitol (artificial sweetener). In addition, a dog can choke on small bones discovered in a trash can.
  2. Get rid of dangerous plants for pets. Some common house plants present a risk to pets, who often can’t resist chewing on foliage. English ivy, lilies, azaleas, mums, tulips, and oleander should be removed from any areas where your pets roam freely. Click here to browse the ASPCA’s complete list of toxic plants.
  3. Another reason to put down the toilet lid. The toilet bowl is a curious place for animals. Dogs and cats may go there for a drink, and end up ingesting chemicals. Small animals—hamsters, kittens, guinea pigs, gerbils—have been known to fall in and drown. For safety sake, make sure everyone in your family closes the toilet lid.
  4. Tuck strings, cords, and wires out of reach. Animals may chew or become tangled in the cords from your electronics or window treatments. Protect your animals and your home by keeping those pet hazards out of reach.
  5. Put a latch on cabinets. Cabinet doors can be easily opened with the nudge of a nose or paw. Prevent your pet from getting into your stash of cleaning supplies by putting a child-safe latch on your lower cabinet doors.
  6. Secure your screens. Cats and dogs love to look out windows. They might get a little too excited when they spot a squirrel or bird. If your window screen isn’t firmly secured, your cat or small dog can push the screen and fall out the window. Check your window screens to make sure they are tightly secured.
  7. Provide safe chew toys and scratching posts. It’s natural for dogs to chew and cats to scratch. Cats mark territory with scent from glands in their paws and also scratch to sharpen their claws and stretch their muscles. You can prevent them from taking out their natural instincts on your furniture, flooring, door trim, and windowsills by presenting palatable alternatives. Put healthy chew toys in various places for your dog. Place scratching posts and boards (preferably with coarse surfaces, like sisal rope) near the areas where you cat likes to scratch. Rub catnip oil on the scratching surface to entice the cat.
  8. Give them their own space. You have your bedroom, so why not give your dog or cat their personal space? A dog bed with toys and perhaps a blanket with your scent on it is perfect for your canine companion. Cats prefer to hide away in a secluded space, so a quiet retreat away from bustling activity will be ideal. A perch on a windowsill is also a welcomed space for a cat to relax.
  9. Shop wisely for home furnishings. Be sure your upholstery and carpets are stain-resistant and sturdy. Avoid anything with a thick nap or pile because pet hair will find its way in there and become difficult to remove. You might also consider purchasing furniture that blends in with your pet’s fur color!
  10. Top your bed with washable duvet covers. A majority of homeowners welcome their pets into their beds. A duvet cover is easy to remove and wash—and far less bulky that a comforter.

When you create a safe environment for your pet, you’re less likely to have those “oh no!” moments.

Tips for choosing a mover

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

Moving to a new home is exciting. However, packing up your home and making the move can be stressful. You can make your life much easier by knowing how to choose a moving company that is reliable and affordable.

Here are some useful tips for choosing a mover that will safely transport your belongings to your new location.

  1. Ask for recommendations. Talk to family, friends, neighbors, real estate agents, and co-workers about their experiences with movers. What did they like or dislike about the mover they chose? Did the mover show up on time, deliver as promised, safeguard their property, and stick to its estimate?
  2. Check reviews. Do an online search of each mover you’re considering. Check the reviews on Google, Yelp, Angie’s List, com, and MovingScam.com. Be sure to look at any responses and resolution offered by the movers when there was a negative review. If they made amends, they are trying to live up to a standard.
  3. Get in-home estimates from at least three movers. No mover can give you an accurate estimate over the phone, and don’t hire a mover who estimates by cubic feet. They need to see your home and your belongings. Do they need to maneuver heavy furniture from an upper floor? Is access a problem? Once a mover has actually seen what you want to move, he can’t complain later that he didn’t know you had a piano on the second floor or a lot of breakables to be packed.
  4. Clearly communicate your needs and expectations. Surprises are wonderful at birthdays, but not when you’re moving. Tell the mover what you need and want—the date of the move, desired delivery, amount of packing to be required, and the type and frequency of communication with the driver along the route. If it’s critical that they movers arrive at a specific time, be sure that’s clear. Make no assumptions that what you want is a standard practice with every mover!
  5. Know the mover’s credentials, safety record, and insurance. Get the mover’s Department of Transportation (DOT) license, and verify it with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Ask which type of liability insurance they offer to customers, such as full value or released value. The FMCSA also has a website where you can check the safety record of a mover. Visit “Company Snapshot” on org.
  6. Know who is actually moving you. Some movers use subcontractors. Do you feel comfortable with this third-party approach? Also, take the time to visit the mover’s office. Look at the condition of the trucks and ask to see their storage facility. You’re trusting them with your life’s possessions, so they should respect your wish to know where and how your items will be handled, transported, and stored.
  7. Study the estimate. Carefully review each moving estimate so you understand what you will be agreeing to. Is there a “not to exceed” price? Is it a binding estimate? What are the possible additional costs? How much insurance is included? Are all the services you requested, like packing and unpacking, included? Finally, be clear about the payment process. When is payment required? What forms of payment are accepted? What is the cancellation policy?

Whether you are moving across town or across the country, you need a mover that will reliably handle the critical task of getting your belongings from your current home to your new one. Be sure you’re placing your trust in the right company.

Selling Your Home to the Millennial Homebuyer

Categories: Home Owner Tips | Posted: May 18, 2017

There’s a new generation of homebuyers out there, and they are distinctly different than those who came before them.

Millennials—a total of about 80 million people born between 1980 and 2000—constitute about 35 percent of today’s homebuyers, according to a 2016 National Association of Realtors study. Although many of them have school loan and credit card debt, they’re also living with their parents longer (a lot longer) to save money. It’s a market segment you can’t ignore, but you also can’t overlook the fact that they have strong preferences in their home choices. If you want to successfully sell to this generation, you need to learn how to appeal to the Millennial homebuyer. Here are some home staging tips.

They live lightly. Millennials aren’t clutterbugs. They aren’t likely to be weighed down by possessions, as they prefer to feel unencumbered, to pick up and go on a whim. They like simplicity in their surroundings. When you’re preparing to sell your home, be sure to remove all the extra décor and furnishings. What you might think of as “cozy” or “charming”, they might perceive as “mom’s house”.

DIY doesn’t cut it. This is a generation that has been accustomed to instant gratification. They want a home to be move-in ready. That means updated and clean. They want stainless steel appliances and granite countertops. Carpets are passé to this group; they prefer the natural look of wood flooring, so even manufactured wood, laminate, or wood-like tile is a plus.

Open spaces are preferred. This generation of homebuyer is looking for something more modern than their parents’ home. They want an open floor plan that is conducive to the frequent entertaining they anticipate. They prefer multi-purpose space to defined areas (like dining rooms). Show them how to use a space as a media room (with Internet connectivity, please) and you’ll get their attention.

Go for the green. Millennials are more committed to eco-friendly living than any other generation. They want energy efficiency in the construction (insulation, windows), systems (HVAC), appliances, and fixtures (toilets, showers, LED lighting). Be sure to point out any repurposed or recycled materials used in the home (cork or bamboo flooring, recycled glass surfaces).

Every year, more Millennials will prepare to buy a home. Are you ready to sell to them?

Take your spring cleaning outside: Exterior maintenance checklist

Categories: Home Owner Tips | Posted: May 4, 2017

Spring cleaning is not just an indoor sport. The outside of your home needs some sprucing up this time of year, too.

Follow this exterior maintenance checklist and take your spring cleaning outside.

  1. Wash the walls. You might be surprised at how much dirt has built on your home’s exterior walls. Use a pressure washer to clean it, but be careful if you have vinyl siding or damaged shingles. The best way to clean vinyl siding is with soapy water and a long-handled brush.
  2. Inspect the roof. Snow and ice might have caused damage to your home’s roof. Check for cracked, loose, or missing shingles, and replace any that you find. Also, look for water stains on your ceilings. Melting snow might have left marks where you have roof leaks.
  3. Clean the windows and screens. No one enjoys washing windows, but you’ll enjoy the results of a better view. The best window cleaning solution is a mixture of equal parts of white vinegar and water. And don’t waste paper towels. Use crumpled newspaper, which doesn’t leave lint behind.

Scrub your screens with warm, soapy water and a soft brush. Small holes can be repaired by pressing the mesh back in place and applying a few coats of clear nail polish to hold them there.

  1. Clear out the gutters. Twice a year (spring and fall), you should remove all the debris from your gutters and flush out the gutters and downspouts with a hose. Build-up can lead to water damage to your home. Inspect your gutters for cracks and make sure they’re firmly attached.
  2. Refresh your patio, porch, and deck. Get ready for outdoor entertaining by pressure washing your outdoor living space surfaces. Reseal the decking. Check the steps and railings to be sure everything is firmly in place.

The upside of this side of spring cleaning is that you can enjoy the outdoors while you’re working through your exterior maintenance checklist!

Mortgages 101: It’s not as scary as you think

Categories: Home Owner Tips | Posted: March 23, 2017

Financing a home can seem intimidating to the first-time homebuyer. If you’ve never applied for a mortgage before, don’t be afraid of the process. When you break it down and understand what is involved, you will be prepared to sail through the process!

Check your credit report.

First and foremost, review your credit report. Your credit score is a major factor in qualifying you for a mortgage and the amount you can borrow. A score of 720, for example, is excellent, and you can take your pick of lenders to secure the mortgage and terms you want (e.g., interest rate, no points). But even a lower score can be acceptable, depending on the lender and the mortgage program.

In addition to your credit score, review the entries on your credit report. It’s not unusual to find mistakes, which can be corrected with a letter to the credit reporting company (Equifax, Transunion, and Experian are the top three) or the business that reported the debt.

Late payments can also cause a problem when you’re seeking a mortgage. Try contacting those businesses to see what can be done to remove those “black marks”.

Collect your financial information.

You’ll need to prove your income, which requires two recent paycheck stubs and the last two years of income tax returns. You’ll also be asked for the past two months’ bank statements, so the lender can see how much is in your account as well as how you manage your funds. When you’re preparing to apply for a mortgage, spend a few months in advance ensuring you have reasonable cash flow without overdrafts.

If you receive any other income (e.g., alimony, commissions, investments), have the paperwork that documents it.

Research your loan options.

Mortgages come in all shapes and sizes—adjustable or fixed rate, 15 or 30 years. There are programs to assist first-time homebuyers. Veterans may qualify for a VA mortgage, a low-interest mortgage that requires no down payment. An FHA mortgage is a government-insured loan that requires a smaller down payment and accepts people with a less-than-stellar credit score.

Pre-qualify before you start your new home search.

Armed with the financial documents, you can contact lenders to be pre-approved for a mortgage. Your pre-approval letter will be submitted with your purchase and sale offer, showing the seller that you can actually purchase the home.

Builders usually have a preferred lender. There are many advantages to working with this lender if you are buying a new home or building one. In order to earn the “preferred” status from the homebuilder, the lender has proven himself as a resourceful professional who is committed to helping the buyer.

Don’t fear the mortgage process. It’s the pathway to homeownership!

Clutter versus Keepers: How to get (and stay) organized

Categories: Home Owner Tips | Posted: February 8, 2017

When you move into a new home, you usually start by getting organized. When you were packing up your belongings, you probably purged a lot of items, just to lighten your load.

Before long, you see signs that the clutter bug is back. Mail, magazines, and an assortment of papers are scattered on tables, counters, and other surfaces. Your once-tidy closets are in disarray. The kitchen cabinets are so crammed, it’s hard to find the one thing you need, when you need it.

It’s time to channel that new home mindset, the one where you put everything in a logical place and don’t cling to the unnecessary.

Here are some tips to get and stay organized by separated the clutter from the keepers.

Do you need it? Are you keeping things “just in case”? A half-empty bottle of lotion, cleaner, or other item that has been sitting on a shelf somewhere for ages is taking up space. If “just in case” hasn’t used up the remainder by now, throw it out.

Also, remember that “want” and “need” are two distinctly different categories. You need to have a first aid kit on hand. You want to have an overstuffed supply of extras. Distinguish between want and need so that you avoid keeping things where the clutter quotient outweighs its value.

Does it function properly? Do you have something you’ve been holding on to, until you can get around to repairing it? This could be a pair of pants, a small appliance, a piece of furniture, or maybe chipped pottery. If you haven’t fixed it by now, you’ve been living quite nicely without it. Diagnosis: Clutter.

How sentimental is it? Quite likely, a large percentage of possessions you’re clinging to have sentimental value. Ask yourself how much sentiment you need. Your child’s first tooth is a keeper. All the ones that followed are not. Your college diploma is a keeper. Your participation certificate from the intramural soccer club is not. You don’t have to be ruthless (well, maybe a little). Just be realistic. Something with true sentimental value is worth having close at hand—displayed on a shelf, hanging on the wall, or among your valuables. If it’s not worth looking at on a regular basis, the sentimental value has depreciated considerably.

Once you’ve gone through the task of purging, organize what remains by storing it in a logical location, in proper containers (not cardboard), and with clear labels, so it’s easy to find when needed.

Before you toss out some of your things, determine if it can be donated to local charities, churches, schools, libraries, senior centers, or other groups.

As a rule of thumb, schedule a purge annually. Make it a part of your spring cleaning routine so you keep the clutter bug out of your home.

10 ways to improve your indoor air quality

Categories: Home Owner Tips | Posted: January 26, 2017

You spend a lot more time inside your home during the cold weather. Did you know you could be breathing in more pollutants inside your home than outside?

Dust mites, pet dander, second-hand smoke, and mold are the obvious culprits, but the problem goes deeper. Household cleaners, air fresheners, carpets, furniture, and even the paint on your walls could be releasing harmful toxins. Other allergens and irritants are being tracked into your home. With the improvements in insulation being installed in today’s homes, you’re living (and breathing) in an airtight environment that is comfortable but could be harmful.

Protect your household by making healthier choices. Here are 10 ways to improve your indoor air quality.

  1. Use a good vacuum with a HEPA filter. Don’t skimp on your choice of vacuum. A lesser quality vacuum will suction up the dust, mites, allergens, and pollutants, but then sends them back into the air via the exhaust. Choose a vacuum that features a HEPA filter, rotating brushes, and strong suction. Be sure to clean the filter regularly, for best results.
  2. Mop after vacuuming. It’s not enough to vacuum. Go over the laminate, wood, and tile floors with a wet mop (no cleaners) after you’ve finished vacuuming, to ensure you’ve removed as much unwanted debris as possible.
  3. Protect your entryways. Prevent dirt, pet dander, chemicals, pesticides, and other traveling pollutants from walking into your house. Place a durable mat at each doorway. Ask people to remove their shoes when entering your home.
  4. Manage the humidity. Moisture is a breeding ground for mold and mites. Keep your humidity to no more than 50% by using a dehumidifier in the months when your home is closed tight, and empty the drip pans as needed.

You can also reduce the humidity by using an exhaust fan in the bathroom and kitchen (particularly when the dishwasher is running). Be careful not to overwater your house plants. Repair leaky pipes and faucets, and vent your clothes dryer to the outside of your home.

  1. Use natural cleaners. Many store-bought cleaners contain harmful chemicals that you’re spraying into the air and wiping onto your home’s surfaces. You don’t need those chemistry experiments to keep your home clean. Some of the best cleaning products are in your pantry: lemon slices, baking soda, white vinegar, tea tree oil, olive oil, salt, and castile soap.
  2. Avoid artificial fragrances. Plug-in air fresheners have been proven to emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are considered toxic. Laundry detergents, air fresheners, dryer sheets, and other consumer products that boast a “fresh scent” are the result of harsh chemicals, such as phthalates. Avoid any products with artificial fragrances. For indoor air that is healthy and smells fresh, use an air diffuser with essential oils.
  3. Read labels. Some of the woods and wood products used in furniture are treated with chemicals, like formaldehyde, and assembled with toxic glues. Look for furniture, electronics, building products (e.g., cabinetry, countertops, lighting, flooring), mattresses, wallcoverings, and windows treatments that carry the GREENGUARD Certification,
  4. Look for low- or no-VOCs. If you’ve ever walked into a room with fresh paint, you know the odor. You might have even experienced a headache from the VOCs in the paint. Choose only low-VOC or Zero VOC paint.
  5. Add plants. Some house plants remove toxins from the air and emit healthy oxygen in return. These detoxifying plants include the areca palm, bamboo palm, gerbera daisy, spider plant, variegated wax plant, and Boston fern. They remove chemicals like formaldehyde, benzene, and toluene from your air, AND they’re safe for pets (cats and dogs).
  6. Open the windows. There’s nothing like airing out your home. Yes, it’s cold outside, but let in some fresh air occasionally—and let the bad air get out.

Post-holiday home touch-ups

Categories: Home Owner Tips | Posted: January 5, 2017

The party’s over. Friends and family members have gone home. You’re taking down the holiday decorations, with far less enthusiasm than when you festooned your home with the sparkle, glitter, ribbons, bows, and scents that put you in the holiday spirit.

Now you’re seeing the fresh scars on the wood furniture, stains on the rugs and upholstery, nicks on the walls, and who put thumbtacks in the mantle?

Don’t assume the “bah, humbug” mode. These nagging little issues are simply an opportunity to start the new year fresh with some post-holiday home touch-ups.

  • Steam-clean your carpets, rugs, and upholstery. You’ve got a lot of indoor living to do in the months ahead. The fresh smell and revived look will perk up your spirits.
  • If you don’t want to patch and repaint the nail holes and nicks in your walls, apply wall decals. You can find anything from an inspiring quote to a panoramic image.
  • A minor furniture scratch can often be rubbed out with a 50-50 mixture of lemon juice and vegetable oil. Click here for other furniture repair tips.
  • Don’t wait for spring cleaning. While you’re moving your furniture back from its holiday location, dust and vacuum those spots that are usually hidden.
  • You probably spent a lot of time in your kitchen over the holidays. Did you experience frustration with clutter or disorganization? Now is a great time to reorganize this vital space. Clean out your cabinets and determine a more convenient way to store those small appliances that you suddenly discovered have more value than you realized (e.g., the immersion blender you never took out of the box). Discard old herbs and spices, replace them, and create a better system for keeping stock so you don’t run out of ginger just when you’re ready to make gingerbread cookies with the kids.
  • Before you stash all your holiday decorations back where they live for 11 months of the year, do a quick inventory. Are there any you don’t want to keep? If so, purge now and lighten your load.

It’s a new year. Start with a clean slate, a clean house, and a fresh perspective!