The Best Choices for Kitchen Floors

smart-options-kitchen-flooring-standard_da1f0df10b51f3ae838ef0c17b55fb34_3x2_jpg_518x345_q85From hardwood to cork, the ideal flooring for you.

So many factors play into choosing a kitchen floor: How much do you cook? Is it an open floor plan? What’s the most durable?

We’ve taken out the guesswork and chosen four flooring types that make the most sense for kitchens, and we explain why they are ideal.

Hardwood Flooring is Ideal When:

  • You don’t want your kitchen to look dated over time.
  • You have an open floor plan.
  • You seek durability.

Hardwood flooring, with its unmatched warmth and visual appeal, is a great choice if you want to create a look that never really goes out of style, giving you a good return on investment if you ever sell your home.

Also, if you have an open floor plan, hardwood works well in both kitchens and living areas. It creates a warm and unified look.

Hardwood is also:

  • Highly durable. It can withstand decades of use.
  • Low-maintenance.
  • Moisture-resistant if you choose a prefinished type.

Hardwood flooring is made in two ways: solid wood strips or engineered wood planks.

Engineered wood is the better choice for kitchens. It has a veneer of real wood backed by layers of less expensive plywood. This construction provides dimensional stability that makes the flooring less susceptible to movement caused by changes in humidity and temperature — common in kitchens.

Cost: $3 to $12 per sq. ft.
Installation: $5 to $12 per sq. ft., depending on the complexity of the job.

Vinyl Flooring is Ideal When:

  • You cook a lot.
  • You want the easiest-to-maintain floor.
  • You are on a tight budget.

Sheet vinyl belongs to a group of flooring products called resilient flooring, which is the softest flooring option. If you cook a lot, this cushiness makes it easier on your feet while easing muscle fatigue.

Also, sheet vinyl is much more forgiving if you (or someone in your family) is a bit of klutz who tends to drop things. You’ll have less breakage.

Plus, sheet vinyl flooring is a snap to clean up; it’s completely waterproof and stain-proof.

However, depending on the size and layout of your kitchen, you may have seams. Standard width for vinyl flooring is 12 feet. If your kitchen is wider than that, you’ll definitely have seams, which can let moisture into the subfloor and trap dirt if they aren’t tightly bonded.

On the upside, sheet vinyl requires no ongoing maintenance beyond sweeping and mopping. If the softness of vinyl flooring appeals to you most, you might opt for cushioned vinyl flooring, which is backed with a layer of foam (standard sheet vinyl uses felt backing).

Sounds good, but that extra cushiness makes it hard to create seams that stay tightly bonded over time. You may end up with seams that come apart, letting in moisture and trapping dirt.

Sheet vinyl comes in many colors and patterns. Thicker vinyl can feature a textured surface, and some types do an excellent job of mimicking the appearance of ceramic tile and real stone. Textured vinyl is a wise choice because it provides traction. Vinyl can be dangerously slippery when wet.

Vinyl flooring also has a wear layer that helps resist scratches and scuff marks. But it does eventually wear off. The best brands offer guarantees on the wear layer of 10 to15 years, and good quality vinyl should last 20 years.

Cost: $1 to $5 per sq. ft.
Installation: $1 to $2 per sq. ft.

Don’t confuse vinyl with linoleum. While linoleum is a similar product, it is not as durable, nor as soft. Its upside is its eco-friendliness.

Porcelain Tile is Ideal When:

  • You want the toughest flooring.
  • You like the look of stone.
  • You want low maintenance.

Porcelain flooring tile, a version of common ceramic tile, is the durability champ. It’s fired at high temperatures that produce an extremely hard, durable, stain-resistant tile that is impervious to moisture.

In fact, it’s so tough it can be used outdoors in virtually any climate.  Like common ceramic tile, porcelain tile comes either unglazed or glazed. The unglazed versions take on the color of their clay mixture, so they have naturally earthy tones.

Glazed tiles have a glass-like coating that can be made in virtually any color, and can mimic the look and texture of real stone at a much lower cost than stone.

Make sure you choose porcelain tiles certified as slip-resistant by the Americans with Disabilities Act — the designation should be visible on product literature or packing materials.

Cost: $1 to $20 per sq. ft.
Installation: $5 to $10 per sq. ft.

Cork Flooring is Ideal When:

  • You want an eco-friendly choice.
  • You want a softer floor than wood or tile.
  • You want slip-resistance.

Cork is made from tree bark that’s harvested every eight to 10 years; it’s a sustainable material, meaning the bark grows back and can be harvested repeatedly.

Countries that produce cork are careful to regulate harvesting to ensure future supplies.

Cork has a unique cellular structure that’s waterproof and compressible, which makes it a comfortable, moisture-resistant choice. It comes in 12-inch-by-12-inch tiles and 1-foot-by-3-foot planks, each with a unique grain pattern of swirls and speckles.

The surface is naturally textured, which makes it slip-resistant.

But unlike other flooring options mentioned, cork floors need to be resealed every three to four years to help guard against scratches and prevent moisture from entering the seams between tiles.

Both natural wax and polyurethane are good sealers for cork. Choose water-based polyurethane that’s non-toxic or has low volatile organic compound content to keep it green.

Cost: $2 to $6 per sq. ft
Installation: $5 to $10 per sq. ft.

The Ultimate Sweet and Salty Cookie Experience

potatochip_headerWhen you’re hungry for a snack, do you go for chocolate or chips? Well, why not both? This recipe for potato chip chocolate chip cookies is a perfect blend of chocolate and potato chips—making these cookies a snack lover’s dream come true!

Servings: 24 cookies


Ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1½ cups thick potato chips, crushed

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.  Mix together the flour and baking soda, and set aside. In a separate bowl, add the butter and sugars, and whisk until smooth.
  2. Lightly beat the eggs and egg yolk, and stir into sugar mixture with the vanilla extract until all ingredients are combined; then spoon the flour mixture into the mix. Stir in the chocolate chips and potato chip pieces.
  3. Roll the dough into 1½-inch balls, and place on a baking sheet; bake for 12-14 minutes, remove, and let cool on a wire rack.

Make these cookies for an at-home treat, or put them out at a holiday party—people will be amazed at your creativity!

Egging, Toilet Papering: How to Clean Up After Halloween Pranks

egging-toilet-papering-how-clean_1x1_553a121616d59da1469914e340c5f1c7_165x165_q85Halloween cleanup can be the scariest thing about the holiday. Here’s a tip sheet on how to remove eggs, toilet paper, wax, and other messes that go bump in the night.

Halloween can be a messy holiday. With pranksters about, you may end up with egg yolks dripping down your siding and toilet paper hanging from your trees. Inside, you might drip candle wax on your carpet, and your little ones could leave makeup stains on your furniture. Hey — it’s the price of having fun.

But when the fun is over, the cleanup begins. Here are some tips from the American Cleaning Institute and others on removing the Halloween mayhem that little tricksters leave behind.

Egg Splatters on Your House

Time is your enemy when your house has been egged, because sunbaked yolks can stain your siding. Also, micro-shards of shell can become embedded in paint or act as an abrasive when you clean off the gunk.

Instead of scrubbing, spray away the egg with your garden hose. But don’t aim the hose full blast at the yolk, which will splatter the mess. Instead, Popular Mechanics magazine suggests first wetting the siding below the egg, then gently spraying the siding above the egg; the water will fall in sheets and flush away the mess.

If you need more cleaning oomph, dip a brush into a bucket of warm water (never hot, which will bake on yolks) and dish soap, and then scrub away the mess.

Toilet Paper in Your Trees

Wet toilet paper is a beast to remove from trees. So wait until the sun evaporates dew; or, if rain is predicted, start removal right away.

Use a rake to grab and pull the TP down, a leaf blower to blast it, or a telescoping reacher/grabber to pluck it.

Start at the top and work your way down. Immediately throw paper away: Leaving it on your lawn can smother grass.

Candle Wax on the Carpets

Never try to remove hot wax from carpeting. Not only can you burn yourself, but you’ll likely spread the wax, making a bigger mess.

When the wax has cooled, break it with a dull knife or Popsicle stick. Throw away the pieces.

Cover remaining bits with a paper towel or rag, and press a warm iron to the area. Replace the towel frequently to avoid spreading the wax.

Halloween Makeup on Upholstery and Carpet

Many commercial carpet and upholstery cleaners remove makeup from unwanted places. The only tricky part is applying these cleaners.

Always test the cleaner on an inconspicuous spot. Apply a dab of cleaner on a white cloth, then hold it to the test area for about a minute. If no color is transferred to the white cloth, the cleaner is safe.

Never rub cleaner on a stain. Rather, blot the stain starting from its outer edge and work to the center.

What pranks and Halloween messes have you had to clean up? Got some good cleaning tips? Please feel free to share!

Allergies at Home

allergies-at-home-dogs-bed_477d3b7a5da1aaa414d5acd9e47f2d20_2_1x1_165x165_q85If you have allergies at home, you’re hosting allergens with specific needs. If those pollutants could write classified ads, here’s what they’d want.

PET DANDER seeks vacuum-free home where cats and dogs are rarely bathed. Prefer pets be allowed to sleep in their owners’ beds. We really can’t tolerate a household that’s cleaned and vacuumed regularly and where pets are bathed twice a week and pet beds washed monthly.

DUST MITES in need of a cozy mattress. Please, no dust mite-proof covers (we can’t hack latex mattresses or silk bedding, either). Bedding and comforters must be rarely washed. Absolutely NO water heaters set above 130 degrees — we’d be goners. Prefer natural materials for hanging out — no synthetics or air purifiers with HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters, please, as we find them inhospitable.

POLLEN wants airy home with windows and doors frequently left open. Prefer windows where mold and condensation are never cleaned from window frames and sills. Definitely prefer a location with no HVAC air filtration system so we can easily circulate to keep eyes watering and noses running. Absolutely NO small-particle or HEPA filters allowed.

MODERN ALLERGEN FAMILY (dust, pollen, pet dander, and dust mites) in need of carpeting. Thick carpet piles that are rarely shampooed or vacuumed given preference. No homes with hardwood, laminate, or vinyl flooring considered because there’s nowhere for us to hide. Also, no calls accepted from homes where surfaces are steam-cleaned or that feature low-pile carpets that are regularly vacuumed (equipped with  a HEPA filter). Washable area rugs not considered.

RESPIRATORY AILMENTS willing to trade a clean-burning gas fireplace for an old-fashioned, inefficient wood-burning model that produces plenty of smoke and gasses. Please, no wood-burning fireplace inserts. Also looking to sell our vented range hood (which really sucks the life out of us).

WANTED: Horizontal blinds where dust and pollen can settle undisturbed. Please, no natural and synthetic curtains that are regularly washed, or we’re down the drain.

DUST AND OTHER ALLERGENS seek comfy home fully furnished with upholstered goods that are never vacuumed. No leather, wood, metal, or plastic furnishings considered, as we don’t find these hospitable.

MOLD AND MILDEW need hot, humid home with no air conditioning and no dehumidifier. (A place with a dehumidifier may be considered if it’s rarely cleaned. We’ve found these make a nice home too.) Especially happy in a location with water damage: damp carpeting, a soggy basementleaky plumbing, and a clothes dryer that isn’t vented outside. Also interested in locations with non-ventilated bathrooms lined with wallpaper, and equipped with a shower, tub, mats, and curtains that are rarely cleaned. Leaky toilets considered a plus. Please, no tiled bathrooms.

CLUTTER WANTED: Dust and pollen seek a variety of knickknacks, books and magazines, dried flowers, toys (especially stuffed animals), wicker baskets, and other items to collect on. No dusting considered. Also, please don’t wash stuffed animals monthly in hot (130 degree) water as this is a killer move when it comes to us allergens! And, if you’ve heard about putting nonwashable stuffed animals in the freezer for 24 hours and then rinsing the dead dust mites off with cold water — don’t do that either.

MUST SELL: HEPA filters for heating and cooling system. Allergens can’t thrive when these filters are changed in the furnace once a month. Priced effectively.

How to Prevent Freezing Pipes

prevent-freezing-pipes_1x1_aded65c6f0299dae474c071efde5073c_165x165_q85By taking preventive measures before cold weather arrives, you can prevent freezing pipes and the costly damage that goes with them.

Wicked winter weather can cause plumbing pipes to freeze and possibly burst, causing flooding and costly water damage to your home. Taking preventive measures before winter sets in can reduce and eliminate the risk of frozen pipes and other cold-weather threats.

Where the Trouble Lies

“Some pipes are more prone to freezing than others because of their location in the home,” explains Paul Abrams, spokesman for Roto-Rooter.

Pipes most at risk for freezing include:

  • Exposed pipes in unheated areas of the home.
  • Pipes located in exterior walls.
  • Any plumbing on the exterior of the home.

Preventative Measures for Outside

A frozen garden hose can cause more damage than a busted hose; it can actually burst an interior pipe. When the water in the hose freezes, it expands, increasing pressure throughout the whole plumbing system. As part of your regular seasonal maintenance, garden hoses should be disconnected, drained, and stored before the first hard freeze.

If you don’t have frost-proof spigots, close the interior shut-off valve leading to that faucet, open and drain the spigot, and install a faucet insulator. They cost only a couple bucks and are worth every penny. Don’t forget, outdoor kitchens need winterizing, too, to prevent damage.

Exposed Interior Plumbing

Exposed pipes in the basement are rarely in danger of freezing because they are in a heated portion of the home. But plumbing pipes in an unheated area, such as an atticcrawl space, and garage, are at risk of freezing.

Often, inexpensive foam pipe insulation is enough for moderately cold climates. For severe climes, opt for wrapping problem pipes with thermostatically controlled heat tape (from $50 to $200, depending on length), which will turn on at certain minimum temps.

Under-Insulated Walls

If pipes traveling in exterior walls have frozen in the past (tell-tale signs include water damage, mold, and moisture build-up), it’s probably because of inadequate or improperly installed insulation. It might well be worth the couple hundred dollars it costs to open up the wall and beef up the insulation.

“When nothing else works, say for a northern wall in a really cold climate, the last resort is to reroute a pipe,” notes Abrams. Depending on how far the pipe needs to be moved — and how much damage is caused in the process — this preventative measure costs anywhere from $700 on up. Of course, putting the room back together is extra.

Heading South for the Winter?

For folks leaving their houses for an extended period of time in winter, additional preventative measures must be taken to adequately protect the home from frozen pipes.

  • Make sure the furnace is set no lower than 55 degrees.
  • Shut off the main water supply and drain the system by opening all faucets and flushing the toilets.

In extreme situations (vacation home in a bitterly cold climate), Abrams recommends having a plumber come to inspect the system, drain the hot water heater, and perhaps replace the water in traps and drains with nontoxic antifreeze.

Mix it UP: 3 simple, delicious dip mixes

dipmix_headerDips are an essential at most parties, as people love them as a tasty accompaniment to foods like chips, veggies, crackers, and bread. Plus, it’s really easy and affordable to whip up your own homemade dips to bring the flavor to any get-together, give as a gift, or add as a healthy home-snacking option.

The trio of dips below will allow you to satisfy any dip desire. To make these dips, you just have to mix the ingredients in a bowl, and then put the dip in the fridge for a few hours.


Dill Dip

  • dilldip11 teaspoon dill weed
  • 1 teaspoon parsley flakes
  • 1 teaspoon onion flakes
  • ¼ teaspoon seasoned salt
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • ½ cup sour cream

Cheesy Bacon Dip

  • cheesybacondip1-300x2253 tablespoons bacon bits
  • 1 tablespoon beef bouillon granules
  • 3 tablespoons dried minced onion
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ⅛ teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1½ cups sour cream
  • ⅔ cup cheddar cheese, shredded

Tex-Mex Dip

  • texmexdip1-300x2251½ teaspoons chili powder
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1½ teaspoons dried minced onion
  • ¾ teaspoon dried chives
  • 1½ teaspoons dried parsley
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup sour cream or yogurt
  • ½ cup mayonnaise

These dips will add the flavor to any party or get-together. Start planning now for you upcoming holiday party.

Improve Credit Score with These Home Finance Tips

credit-scoreHow you manage your home ownership finances affects your credit score—and your ability to refinance later.

Your credit score affects how much you’ll pay for a mortgage or refinance—or even if you can get one at all. Master the six ways to manage home-related spending to keep your credit score braggingly high.

1. Postpone that refinance until your credit is squeaky clean.

Even a small blemish on a credit report can cost you at closing. Money expert Denise Winston found that out firsthand: Her husband hadn’t paid a $40 pager charge. The unpaid bill was turned over to a collection agency and ended up damaging his credit score.

Because of that one small unpaid bill, the interest rate on the couple’s mortgage was 0.25% higher than if he’d had a clean score. Put another way, that’s $13,000 over the life of the loan.

The lesson? Even small items can damage your financial position. Get your credit report beforehand to see if there’s anything damaging. If so, consider postponing a refinance or HELOC (home equity line of credit) until small but potentially costly dings fade over time.

2. Pay your mortgage—now.

Not all late payments are created equal: Almost nothing hits your credit score harder than a late mortgage payment. Payment history generally accounts for 35% of your credit score, which is bad enough, but credit score agencies consider late home payments graver than late credit card or car loan payments.

In fact, credit score agency VantageScore will knock off more than 100 points beyond what it would do for delinquent auto loans or credit cards.

But if you think you can improve your credit score with early payments, think again. Geoff Williams, co-author of Living Well with Bad Credit, says it may make a slightly positive impression on today’s risk-averse lender, but it won’t make a big difference in getting future credit.

3. Cool it on second mortgages and HELOCs.

Drawing down a second mortgage or HELOC can have a negative impact on your credit score because 30% of your credit score is based on how much you owe to creditors. However, if you pay the loan on time, it will have less of an impact, says Winston.

Also, you can mitigate the credit score damage of a HELOC by staying within 30% of the limit.

4. Protect your mortgage to protect your insurance rate.

Late payments on your mortgage may also affect your home owners and automobile insurance rates, potentially costing you hundreds of dollars a year, says Williams. Insurers may assume that if you’re strapped for cash and pay your bills late, you’re more likely to file a claim because you need the money.

5. Pay your utility bills and property taxes on time.

If you’re late on your utility bills and your account is assigned to a collection agency, that agency may report it, causing a drop in your credit score, says Winston. The good news is that utility companies often don’t bother to report late bills to credit bureaus until your delinquency becomes serious.

Interestingly, late payment of property taxes won’t affect your credit score unless you find yourself with a lien on your property. Since liens are public records, they may appear on your credit report and might cause a drop in your credit score.

6. Refinancing? Beware of taking out equity, too.

Refinancing your home generally won’t have an impact on your credit score as long as you continue to pay your loan on time, says Williams. However, if you extract equity in the deal, you could marginally affect your credit score because the amount you owe will increase.

Remove Stains From Walls Before You Paint

wall-stain-removal-child-crayon-standard_3x2_97c51221e05f952a5bb229b38f37d216_540x360_q85It’s the first commandment of painting. Here’s how to wash seven common stains off your walls.

Painting instructions often warn: Remove stains from walls before painting. But they never say how.

Any cleaning rookie can wipe off dust and cobwebs. But it takes a cleaning pro to scour grease stains, watermarks, and kids’ crayon and ink wall art.

Dirt and Grime

Dirt and grime are part of everyday life. The oil from your hands gets onto walls, cabinets, doors, and door frames. A Mr. Clean Magic Eraser ($3 for 4 pads) easily cuts through these stains. Wet the sponge and rub gently to avoid taking bits of paint off with the stain.

Or try this: Mix 1 cup ammonia, 1/2 cup white distilled or apple cider vinegar, and 1/4 cup baking soda with one gallon of warm water. Wipe the solution over walls with a sponge or cloth, and rinse with clear water. The solution won’t dull the painted finish or leave streaks.

Grease

Grease is an occupational hazard of cooking; it covers cabinets and walls and attracts dirt and dust. Any good dish soap can remove grease stains on walls. For small stains, mix 1/4 teaspoon of soap in a cup of warm water, and wipe. Rinse with clean water, and blot until dry. Clean stubborn grease stains with solution of 1/3 cup of white household vinegarwith 2/3 cup of water.

Crayons

Wall erasers work like a charm on crayon marks. If they don’t do the trick:

  • Rub marks with toothpaste (not gel).
  • Erase marks with an art gum or a pencil eraser; use a circular motion.
  • Swipe marks with baby wipes.
  • Sprinkle baking soda on a damp sponge and scrub marks.

Permanent Marker

Permanent markers are tough to remove from walls. Soak a cotton ball with rubbing alcohol and dab the stain. Or spray marks with hairspray, then wipe drips.

Ink

Ballpoint ink, which is oil-based, often succumbs to foaming shaving cream, dry-cleaning solvents such as Carbona, or nail polish remover. Make sure you open windows when using cleaning solvents and polish remover.

Mildew

Mildew is a fungus that eats soap scum and body oil. To remove from walls, spray with vinegar water: 1 tablespoon white vinegar to 1 quart water. Also, try an enzyme laundry detergent; follow the pre-treating directions on the label. Blot it on the stain, and then rinse thoroughly with water.

Water Stains

After you’ve solved the problem that caused the water stains, rinse with a solution of 1 cup bleach to 1 gallon of water to prevent mold and mildew from growing. Thoroughly dry with a hairdryer or fans. If bleaching doesn’t remove water stains, you’ll have to repaint. Prime the walls with a stain-killing primer, such as Kilz Paint.

Best Recipe to Remove Skunk Odor

puppy_bathFall in the midwest brings autumn colors, cooler weather and more noticeably, skunks!

Skunk odor is notoriously difficult to get rid of, and for good reason — skunk spray is a lethal combination of sulfurous chemical oils meant to protect the skunk from predators like bears, dogs, and people. On the plus side, until the smell is gone, you’ll have lots of alone time to contemplate things.

A home remedy for removing skunk odor from dogs. 
This is much more effective than tomato juice, and won’t turn your pet orange in the process.

Mix together the following:
1 quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide
1/4 cup baking soda
1 teaspoon liquid soap

Soak the dog with water and then work the solution into a thick lather on the dog.  Leave lather on for 3 – 5 minutes and then rinse off.  
(Make certain you don’t get any solution in the dog’s eyes.)  
Do not try to store the mixture in a closed container.

The odor of skunk spray is the offensive (to put it nicely) result of the sulfurous chemicals, methyl and butyl thiols, contained within the skunk’s anal glands. These chemicals are the skunk’s ultimate defense against predators and danger, and can be sprayed as far as 15 feet with accuracy, covering the target with the smelly oils so hard to get rid of.

Skunks only spray as a last resort, since they have a finite supply of these oils (it can take up to 10 days for a skunk to replenish it’s spray), so the best way to avoid skunk smell is simply to be aware of how close you (and your pets) are to skunk territory and make an effort to keep your behavior as gentle and quiet as possible (don’t act like a predator).

5 Things That REALLY Will Put a Serious Dent in Your Energy Bills

take-back-energy-bills-switch-standard_1x1_892cc934c99d6b5e354b9223e17c5890_320x320_q85Stop sending so much money to your utility company with these simple strategies.

Your Mexican beach vacation was great, but, man, those margaritas sure can put on the pounds. It’s been two months, and you’re still carrying around an extra tenner — despite a new running routine and a lot of #&*&@$ kale. So why isn’t your weight dropping?

It’s like that with energy bills, too.  Eighty-nine percent of us believe we’re doing the right things to lower energy costs, and almost half of us think our homes already are energy efficient. Yet, 59% of us say our bills are going up, not down, despite our efforts to economize.

Suzanne Shelton, CEO of the Shelton Group, a marketing agency that specializes in energy efficiency and that did this research, says we’re rationalizing: “I bought these [LEDs] so now I can leave the lights on and not pay more. I ate the salad, so I can have the chocolate cake.” Denial much?

Her research also shows consumers, on average, made fewer than three energy-efficient improvements in 2012 compared with almost five in 2010. It looks like we’re giving in to higher utility bills. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

You just need to know what improvements really will make the biggest difference to lower your bills. There are five, and the good news is that they’re really (seriously) cheap. You can go straight to them here, but there’s also another thing you can do that doesn’t cost a dime — and will drop your costs:

Be Mindful About Your Relationship With Energy

Think about it. Energy is the only product we buy on a daily basis without knowing how much it costs until a month later, says Cliff Majersik, executive director of the Institute for Market Transformation, a research and policy-making nonprofit focused on improving buildings’ energy efficiency.

With other services you get a choice of whether to buy based on price. With energy you don’t get that choice — unless you intentionally decide not to buy. You can take control by making yourself aware that you’re spending money on something you don’t need each time you leave home with the AC on high, lights and ceiling fans on, and your computer wide awake.

Related: Did You Know You Should Never Leave a Ceiling Fan on When You Leave a Room? 

That mindfulness is important because your relationship with energy is getting more intense. You (and practically every other person on the planet) are plugging in more and more. Used to be that heating and cooling were the biggest energy hogs, but now appliances, electronics, water heating, and lighting together have that dubious honor, according to Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, based on data from U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the research arm of the Department of Energy (DOE).


Energy is the only product we buy on a daily basis without knowing how much it costs until a month later.

— Cliff Majersik, executive director of the Institute for Market Transformation

Being mindful means it’s also time to banish four assumptions that are sabotaging your energy-efficiency efforts:

1. Newer homes (less than 30 years old) are already energy efficient because they were built to code. Don’t bank on it. Building codes change pretty regularly, so even newer homes benefit from improvements, says Lee Ann Head, vice president of research and insights with the Shelton Group.

2. Utilities are out to get us: They’ll jack up prices no matter what we do. It might feel cathartic to blame them (Shelton’s research shows consumers blame utilities above oil companies and the government), but to get any rate changes, utilities must make a formal case to public utility commissions.

3. Energy improvements should pay for themselves. Nice wish, but it doesn’t work that way. When the Shelton Group asked consumers what they would expect to recoup if they invested $4,000 in energy-efficient home improvements, they said about 75% to 80%.

Unless you invest in some kind of renewable energy source like geothermal and solar, you won’t see that kind of savings. (Sorry.) Even if you do all the right things, the most you should expect is a 20% to 30% reduction annually, says Head, which is still significant over the long term.

What does 30% translate into? $618 in savings per year or $52 per month, based on the average household energy spend of $2,060 per year, according to Lawrence Berkeley and EIA.

4. Expensive improvements will have the biggest impact. That’s why homeowners often choose pricey projects like replacing windows, which should probably be fifth or sixth on the list of energy-efficient improvements, Shelton says.

There’s nothing wrong with investing in new windows. They feel sturdier; look pretty; can increase the value of your home; feel safer than old, crooked windows; and, yes, offer energy savings you can feel (no more draft). But new windows are the wrong choice if your only reason for the project was reducing energy costs. You could replace double-pane windows with new efficient ones for about $9,000 to $12,000 and save $27 to $111 a year on your energy bill, according to EnergyStar. (The savings are higher if you replace single-pane windows.)  Or you could spend around $1,000 for new insulation, caulking, and sealing, and save 11% on your energy bill, or $227.

The 5 Things That Really Work to Cut Energy Costs

1. Caulk and seal air leaks. Buy a few cans of Great Stuff and knock yourself out over a weekend to seal around:

  • Plumbing lines
  • Electric wires
  • Recessed lighting
  • Windows
  • Crawlspaces
  • Attics

Savings: Up to $227 a year — even more if you add or upgrade your insulation.

Related: Lots of Homes Also Have This HUGE Air Leak 

2. Hire a pro to seal ductwork and give your HVAC a tune-up. Leaky ducts are a common energy-waster.

Savings: Up to $412 a year.

3. Program your thermostat. Shelton says 40% of consumers in her survey admit they don’t program their thermostat for energy savings. She thinks it’s even higher.

Savings: Up to $180 a year.

4. Replace all your light bulbs with LEDs. They’re coming down in price, making them even more cost effective.

Savings: $75 a year or more by replacing your five most frequently used bulbs with Energy Star-rated models.

5. Reduce the temperature on your water heater. Set your tank heater to 120 degrees — not the 140 degrees most are set to out of the box. Also wrap an older water heater and the hot water pipes in insulating material to save on heat loss.

Savings: $12 to $30 a year for each 10-degree reduction in temp.

NOTE: Resist the urge to total these five numbers for annual savings. The estimated savings for each product or activity can’t be summed because of “interactive effects,” says DOE. If you first replace your central AC with a more efficient one, saving, say, 15% on energy consumption, and then seal ducts, you wouldn’t save as much total energy on duct sealing as you would have if you had first sealed them. There’s just less energy to save at that point.

Try Some Bite-Size Apple Bliss

applepie_headerApple pie is a real treat during this time of year, as warm, cinnamon-tinged thick pie filling envelops chunks of apples for a true taste of the holidays. Now you can enjoy this experience as a cookie! With real fruit and heavenly sweet flavor, this tasty take on pie will be the apple of your eye!

Servings: 24 cookies


Ingredients:

  • 1 (16-ounce) container refrigerated pie dough roll
  • 5 small Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and finely diced
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • ⅓ cup brown sugar
  • 1⅛ cups all-purpose flour
  • ⅓ cup oats
  • Pinch of salt
  • 7 tablespoons butter, melted

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Roll out dough onto a lightly floured surface, and cut out 2-inch circles until all the dough is used. Place one circle into each well of a nonstick cupcake pan.
  2. In a saucepan over medium heat, add the apples, ¼ cup granulated sugar, cinnamon, lemon juice, and cornstarch. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5-10 minutes, until apples have softened and the juices start to thicken. Remove from heat, and add 1 tablespoon of the mixture to each pan well.
  3. Combine the rest of the ingredients in a bowl, and mix well; add a generous tablespoon of this mixture to each pan well, and gently
    press down.
  4. Bake for 17-19 minutes, and let cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

Cookies are a traditional favorite of the holiday season, but they’re just one of many treats that can adorn the holiday table. Try your hand at this recipe, and let us know what you think!

Find the Home Loan that Fits Your Needs

man-woman-looking-laptop-veer_fe263dc4a8e595e21658ec726585fc18__3x2_540x360_q85Understand which mortgage loan is best for you so your budget isn’t stretched too thin.

It’s easier to settle happily into your new home if you’re confident you can afford it. Here’s what you need to know about your mortgage financing options, including how to choose the loan that matches your income and tolerance for risk.

Mortgage Financing Basics

The most important features of your mortgage loan are:

1.  Term (how long the loan lasts)

Mortgages typically come in 15-, 20-, 30- or 40-year lengths. The longer the term, the lower your monthly payment. The interest rate on a 15-year mortgage might be 1% lower than the rate on a 30-year mortgage.

The trade-off for a lower payment on the 30-year mortgage is that you make more payments. Since you borrow the money for longer, you pay more interest to the lender.

2.  Interest Rate (how much you pay to borrow money)

Mortgage interest rates generally come in two flavors: fixed and adjustable.

A fixed rate gives you the same interest rate and payment until the end of your mortgage. That’s attractive when you’re risk-averse, if your future income won’t rise, or when interest rates are low.

The interest rate you pay on an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) changes at some point in the future based on where interest rates are at that time. ARMs are named for how long the rates last. For example, with a 5/1 ARM, your rate changes after the first five years and again every year after that.

ARM Risks and Rewards

An adjustable-rate mortgage rate goes up or down based on a particular financial market index, such as treasury bills. Typically, ARMs include a limit on how much the interest rate can change, such as 3% each time the rate changes, or 5% over the life of the loan.

Rewards for the uncertainty:

  • ARMs can be a good choice if you expect your income to grow significantly in the coming years.
  • The interest rate may drop if the financial market index that it tracks dips.
  • An ARM usually starts at a lower rate than a fixed-rate mortgage of the same length and that can mean big savings.

Risks: If rates go up, your ARM payment will jump dramatically. So before you choose an ARM, be comfortable with your answers to these questions:

  • How much can my monthly payments go up at each adjustment?
  • How soon and how often can my monthly payment go up?
  • Can I afford the maximum monthly payment?
  • Do I expect my income to increase or decrease by the time the mortgage payment adjusts?
  • Do I plan to own the home for longer than the initial low-interest-rate period, or do I plan to sell before the rate adjusts?
  • Will I have to pay a penalty if I refinance into a lower-rate mortgage or sell my house?
  • What’s my goal in buying this property? Am I considering a riskier mortgage to buy a more expensive house than I can realistically afford?

More Mortgage Options: Government-Backed Loans

If you’ve saved less than the ideal downpayment of 20%, or your credit score isn’t high enough for you to qualify for a fixed-rate or ARM with a conventional lender, consider a government-backed loan from FHA or the Department of Veterans Affairs.

FHA offers adjustable- and fixed-rate loans at reduced interest rates and with as little as 3.5% down; VA offers no-money-down loans. FHA and VA also let you use cash gifts from family members.

Before you decide on any mortgage, remember that slight variations in interest rates, loan amounts, and terms can significantly affect your monthly payment. To determine how much your monthly payment will be with various terms and loan amounts, try realtor.com’s mortgage calculator.

Chalkboard Serving Tray

chalkboardtrayGive your old serving trays a modern update that will put an end to traditional food labels. Use a chalkboard serving tray as a unique and classy way to keep your holiday guests informed.


Materials:

  • Serving tray
  • Painter’s tape
  • Liquid chalkboard paint
  • Paintbrush

Directions:

  1. Using painter’s tape, outline the portion of the serving tray that you’d like to paint. Consider using shapes, such as conversation bubbles or rectangles.
  2. Apply an even layer of chalkboard paint, and allow to dry for at least one hour. Repeat as necessary until you achieve even coverage.
  3. Hand wash the finished tray, and you’re ready to serve!

Try your hand at this craft, and let us know what you think!

Play Fetch with an Upcycled Dog Toy

dogtoy_headerAs any dog owner knows, dogs love to play more than anything—and will play with just about anything. So keep it simple by making this dog toy, which is not only fun for any dog but also eco-friendly! You’ll use basic items from around the house to make this simple toy, which will keep your pooch occupied and is a great takeaway party favor for man’s best friend.


Materials:

  • Scissors
  • T-shirt scraps in contrasting colors

Instructions:

  1. Cut the fabric into 24 pieces that each measure 1 inch wide by 20 inches long. Cut 2 extra pieces of material in any size; you will use these pieces to secure the ends.
  2. Gather your fabric, and tie one of the extra pieces around the top. Your knot should be tight and secure.
  3. Distribute the bound pieces into three even sections, and braid the pieces together tightly.
  4. Once you reach the ends of the fabric, grab the remaining extra piece of fabric, and tie tightly around the end of the braid. Your knot should be tight and secure.

 

Note: This toy can vary in size as much as dogs do, so don’t be afraid to adjust the length and quantity to be specific to your pup’s needs. For smaller dogs, reduce the length to 12 inches and quantity of strips to only 15 pieces.

How to Replace Weather Stripping

how-replace-weather-stripping_1x1_055244d5c0076c7632d6655d40ccdef6_165x165_q85When weather stripping on doors and windows gets worn out, cold air comes sneaking in. Here’s how to replace weather stripping and stop air leaks.

Weather stripping on windows and doors protects the home from air leaks while increasing comfort and saving energy. But as weather stripping ages, it loses its effectiveness.

Stay ahead of the game by checking for worn-out weather stripping and replacing it.

Identifying Worn Weather Stripping

Weather stripping deteriorates due to age, friction, and exposure to the elements. It also can be damaged by people, pets, and pests. At least once each year, inspect your windows and doors to check for air leaks that indicate your weather stripping isn’t doing its job.

  • Self-adhesive foam tape loses its grip over time, causing it to pull away from the door or window frame — or fall off completely. Foam also can lose its resilience, no longer springing up to fill the gap.
  • Rubber and vinyl weather stripping becomes dry, brittle, and cracked. Over time, it can also lose its shape and effectiveness.
  • Spring-metal V-shaped weather stripping bends out of shape, cracks in spots, and comes loose thanks to missing nails.

How to Remove Old Weather Stripping

For peel-and-stick-type weather stripping, simply pull the foam strips off the door or window by hand. Stripping that is fastened in place with nails or screws requires a more tedious process of locating and removing all the fasteners.

Options for New Weather Stripping

There’s no shortage of weather stripping options at hardware stores and home improvement centers. As is often the case, the cheaper and easier the product is to install, the less effective and durable it probably is over time.

Adhesive-backed foam tape is inexpensive — costing less than a buck a foot — and peel-and-stick types are easy as pie to install. It works best where the bottom of a window sash closes against a sill, or a door closes against a doorframe. It’s the compression that produces the seal. Don’t expect this product to survive longer than 3 to 5 years.

V-shaped weather stripping, sometimes called tension-seal weather stripping, is the best option for the side channels of a double-hung window or a tight-fitting door. This product springs open to close gaps and plug leaky windows and doors.

Inexpensive peel-and-stick V-shaped vinyl (as little as $0.50 per foot) is easy to install but won’t last much longer than foam tape. More expensive copper or bronze styles cost as much as $2 per foot and must be nailed into place, but they look better and will last decades.

Tubular rubber or vinyl gaskets prove the most effective for sealing large and irregular gaps, such as around an old door. These hollow tubes are large enough to plug big gaps but soft enough to compress nearly flat. Types that are nailed in place last longer than peel-and-stick varieties. Prices range from less than $1 per foot for peel-and-stick to $1.25 per foot for nail-in-place.

Prepare the Surface

Before installing any new weather stripping, start with a smooth, clean, and dry surface. Remove all old adhesive using an adhesive cleaner and perhaps a light sanding. Fill and sand old nail holes. If old screw holes can’t be reused, fill and sand those as well.

Installation Tips

  • Some peel-and-stick types should only be applied when the temps are at least 50 degrees. Check the product label.
  • Start with one small area to make sure the door or window opens and closes without difficulty before completing the entire job.
  • Measure twice before cutting to prevent mistakes and waste.
  • Cut rubber and vinyl varieties with shears or a utility knife, and metal types with tin snips. Be careful not to bend the thin metal while cutting it.
  • Make sure to face the opening of V-shaped weather stripping out toward the elements to prevent moisture from getting inside.

Installing Weather Stripping

Adhesive-style weather stripping: Remove the backing and press firmly in place. Removing the backing as you go helps prevent the sticky part of the strip from accidentally adhering to something it shouldn’t.

Nail-in weather stripping: Fasten the strips in place by nailing through the pre-punched holes. For double-hung windows, you’ll need to install the lower half, drop the sash, and then install the upper half.

How to Make Homemade Apple Cider

applecider_headerApple cider has been enjoyed in America since the country’s inception, as colonists heavily relied on the drink as a beverage of choice (and currency) in the New World.

Today, apple cider is more of a traditional treat, especially at this time of the year, when a nice mug of cider hits the spot. Make your own to share some warmth and comfort with your family and friends on a chilly day.

Servings: 8-10


Ingredients:

  • 6 medium apples, assorted types of your choice
  • ½ orange
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon whole allspice
  • 8 cups water
  • Brown sugar, to taste

Ingredients:

  1. Wash the apples and the orange, and then cut them into quarters, keeping the peels, seeds, and stems intact.
  2. Put the fruit slices in a slow cooker, and add the cinnamon sticks, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice. Add water until the cooker is almost full, about ½-inch from the top. Cook on high heat for 3-4 hours, or on low heat for 6-8 hours.
  3. One hour before the cider is done cooking, use a potato masher to mash the fruit slices until they are soft. Continue cooking for the remaining hour.
  4. Strain out the apple cider juice into a pitcher. To get the most juice, press the apples through a cheesecloth or fine mesh strainer. Add the brown sugar to your liking, and stir until it’s dissolved. Serve immediately, or refrigerate for up to 5 days.

Still Feeling the Mortgage Pinch???

Assemble all the pieces!

Has your 10/1 ARM come due? Or how about your HELOC?

Need a remedy? Read this before it is too late!

MORTGAGE FORGIVENESS PROGRAM

The most common benefit to the homeowner is the prevention of foreclosure because loss mitigation works to either relieve the homeowner of the burden or create a mortgage resolution that is financially sustainable for the homeowner.  Lenders benefit by mitigating the losses they would incur through foreclosing on the homeowner by stabilizing the risk of the loss to the lender.

This Program is a nationwide initiative that has been put together to help homeowners that are behind on their mortgage payments, and to help them take advantage of their rights and options, especially under the new legislation.

Our loss mitigation team works to negotiate mortgage terms for the homeowner that will prevent foreclosure.  These new terms are typically obtained through loan modification, short sale negotiation, short refinance negotiation, deed in lieu of foreclosure, cash-for-keys negotiation, repayment plan, forbearance, or other loan work-out.

We simply reach out to homeowners that may or may not be behind on their mortgage so that they can benefit from this program that is available to them.

This program is designed to stop your foreclosure, eliminate your mortgage debt entirely, and to save your credit.  That’s our goal.  That may or may not require you to sell your home.

This is not a government program, but the government has passed legislation, and that legislation was passed to encourage homeowners to exercise their rights and options.  Our goal then, is to find the best strategy for your personal needs and goals. Our initial consultation is free of charge. We do not get paid anything if we do not help you. Ready to find the right answers to the pieces of the puzzle? Feel free to give us a call.

Red Carpet Enterprises, Inc. wants all homeowners to be educated, get the information you need, and understand all of the options available. For free federal assistance and information please visit;

mha-logo

http://www.makinghomeaffordable.gov/pages/default.aspx

RCE is in no way affiliated with any government or municipal organization or entity. Red Carpet Enterprises, Inc. follows ALL applicable Federal, State, County, and Municipal laws and ordinances. RCE has worked on behalf of homeowners with Mortgage Servicers for over 8 years and has a very successful track record, but RCE does not guarantee the favorable or positive results of any consultation, negotiations, or any other interaction with your Mortgage Servicer.

 

Tips for Taking Down Walls and Creating an Open Floor Plan

how-remove-wall-open-space-standard_3x2_ec615936b2254fed250c1b44dd866663_540x360_q85Stuck in a home with too many walls? You can get that open floor plan you’ve always wanted. Here are tips and advice on how.

Open living — one room for all reasons — is the trend that keeps on trending. So if you’re still living with niche rooms — a kitchen for cooking, dining room for eating, and living room for formal entertaining — it’s time to open your mind and home to a new floor plan that adds flow and light.

“Open is how we live,” says Dan Nelson, a Stanwood, Wash., architect whose firm Designs Northwest Architects specializes in open floor plans. “The idea of a formal dining room and living room doesn’t fit our informal lifestyle today.”

Open living:

  • Adds space without changing your home’s footprint (a good thing because it saves money)
  • Increases natural light
  • Improves traffic patterns
  • Lets you enjoy more of your home more of the time

Here are some ways to achieve open living:

Removing Walls

It’s a simple concept: Take down a wall to combine spaces ($500 to $4,000 professionally done). If the wall in question is not load-bearing and doesn’t hide plumbing pipes, it’s a relatively simple task for a contractor to:

  • Demolish drywall and studs
  • Reroute electric lines
  • Build a chase for an HVAC duct hidden in a wall
  • Patch flooring
  • Patch and paint the ceiling where the wall was attached

Taking down a load-bearing wall is not as simple, but definitely doable by a professional (not a DIY project). You’ll need an architect or structural engineer ($100 to $150 per hour) to determine what type of support will replace the wall — such as a post and beam — and how you’ll need to shore up the wall while you’re working.

You don’t have to take down the entire wall to get a more open feeling. A half or knee wall will open sight lines while still defining the different spaces.

Half walls also can pull double duty as breakfast bars, bookcases, and extra storage.

Bringing in More Light

Adding daylight will make your rooms appear bigger and brighter. Here are some ways to bring in more light:

Widen windows. Bust through your home’s exterior and add bigger, more energy-efficient windows. If you change a 3-foot-by-5-foot double hung window to a 5-foot-by-5-foot picture window, it’ll cost you $450 to $1,000 for the window and $350 to $473 for labor. Add another 50% to 100% in installation costs if you have to remove siding and reframe the new window.

how-remove-wall-widen-window-a-standard_2x3_31b2b129f51d4cc2edab28c0520b1a4f_420x630_q85how-remove-wall-widen-window-b-standard_2x3_90d32da3e97cf9cbf2c3e665157482ed_420x630_q85Add French doors or sliding patio doors.  Put them where windows used to be ($1,200-$3,000 installed for 6-foot-8-inch-tall by 5-foot-wide wood door). To make the most of these doors, let them open up to a patio or deck — finished outdoor space that feels like you’re extending indoor living.

Install skylights. Adding skylights brings in lots of daylight — about 30% more than a similar-size window. Install skylights ($650 to $3,500 for a 2-foot-by-4-foot model) with build-in light fixtures that you can turn on when the sun doesn’t shine.

Lighten the drapes. A low-cost way to bring in more light is to exchange heavy curtains for sheer drapes or fabric blinds.

Raising Ceilings

If you have an older house, there’s a chance you have a dropped ceiling beneath the original ceiling, which once was considered a good way to save energy costs. Check to see if you can remove the dropped ceiling and gain 6 inches to a couple of feet in height.

You also can alter ceiling joists and rafters to create a vaulted, coffered, or tray ceiling. You’ll want to consult an architect or structural engineer first, because ceiling joists stabilize the walls of your house. The engineer will redesign new supports to make sure the house remains secure while you raise the ceiling. All this isn’t cheap — vaulting a ceiling over a 300 square foot room costs $18,000 to $25,000.

If your roof is framed with trusses, raising the ceiling height will be problematic, expensive, and probably not worth it.

Remodeling Staircases

Staircases aren’t set in stone (mostly). You can open them up by:

  • Removing walls flanking the stairs and adding freestanding rails
  • Removing risers so the staircase is open and breezy
  • Replacing heavy wood banisters with steel or cable rails

This is a pricey project ($2,000 to $10,000) and not for DIYers. You should have an architect or structural engineer advise you if there are any structural concerns about dismantling the stairway.

Install Built-Ins

how-remove-wall-murphy-bed-a-standard_2x3_f8c853145f87af96c26cb95014f0d463_420x630_q85how-remove-wall-murphy-bed-b-standard_2x3_ef67aea356e2d742c65482987aae2d74_420x630_q85Open living can be death to storage. Removing walls and widening windows erase areas where family room hutches and cabinetry once lived.

“Those are the things people don’t think about until they’re sitting with a box of books and wondering where they’re going to put them,” says Ginny Snook Scott, chief design officer for California Closets.

The solution is to think out of the traditional storage box.

  • Add garage storage to replace kitchen cabinets sacrificed to open living.
  • If you’ve lost a bedroom, install a Murphy bed (starts at $1,350 for a queen bed) in the new space to provide an extra sleeping area when needed.
  • Find additional storage space you might not know you have.

Open Living Tips

1. Make the most of scenic views when opening your floor plan. Orient new windows or doors to exploit your yard’s natural beauty and the sun’s free light.

2. When planning to open space, consult an HVAC specialist who’ll help relocate ducts and vents, and evaluate whether your heating and cooling system can handle the increased volume that raising a ceiling creates. You may have to upgrade your system.

3. Install the same flooring throughout the space. Uniform, light colors on walls and floors make open spaces look bigger and more cohesive, says Eric Tan, a real estate agent.

4. During the planning stage, make an inventory of furniture and art you must have on walls. That way you won’t be surprised when your upright piano has no home after you’ve renovated.

Tips for a Spring-Clean Home All Winter Long

winter-cleaning-organized-shelves-standard_1x1_899154a033831acedf499c7ead2d7cf4_620x620_q85Get the dirt out of your home before you hunker down for winter’s worst.

You know, when you think about it, we should be obsessing over fall cleaning instead of spring cleaning. After all, you’re about to shut yourself inside for months with all the dust and dirt your home has collected during the hot, dusty, open-window days of summer. And who wants to inhale that?!

The EPA even estimates that indoor air quality can be five times more polluted than outdoor air. So here’s a checklist to help you breathe easy all winter long in your home.

Wash and Disinfect Garbage Cans and Wastebaskets

You’re going to be shut in all winter with these germ havens, so now’s a good time to clean them thoroughly. Take them outside where you can blast the insides with a garden hose, then add disinfectant.

For an environmentally safe way to sterilize these nasty grime collectors, use undiluted hydrogen peroxide or vinegar mixed 50/50 with water. Caution! Don’t mix hydrogen peroxide with vinegar — the result is harmful peracetic acid. Regular bleach is an effective disinfectant (one part bleach to six parts water), but we much prefer environmentally safe.

Let the garbage cans sit for an hour, then pour out the contents and scrub the insides with a stiff bristle brush to remove any residue. Rinse and, if possible, let the wastebasket dry in direct sunlight, which helps eliminate bacteria.

Wash and Disinfect Toilet Brush Holders

Take the holder and the brush outside, and spray wash thoroughly with a garden hose. Immerse the holder and brush in a bucket of hot water mixed with one of these solutions:

  • 1 part bleach to 6 parts water
  • 2 to 3 cups of environmentally friendly washing soda crystals
  • A 50/50 mixture of vinegar and water

Let everything sit in the solution for a couple of hours, then rinse the holder and brush with a hose and place in direct sunlight to dry.

Turn Over Furniture and Vacuum the Bottoms

You might shift furniture around so you can vacuum the floor, but there’s another side to the story — the underside.

Tilt upholstered chairs and couches all the way back (much easier with two people) to expose the bottoms. The dustcovers tacked underneath furniture can catch dreck and dust bunnies, so vacuum them off, being careful not to press too hard on the fabric.

Clean the Tops of Doors, Trim, and Artwork

Tables and countertops aren’t the only household items with horizontal surfaces. In fact, just about everything in your house except Rover’s tennis ball has some kind of horizontal surface where dust and dirt will nestle, often unnoticed. You’ll want to clean the top horizontal edges of:

  • Interior doors
  • Trim, including baseboards and chair rails
  • Artwork and mirrors
  • Electrical wall plates
  • Wall-mounted smoke detectors, CO detectors, and thermostats
  • Upper kitchen cabinets
  • Light bulbs and light fixtures
  • Computer monitors
  • Books on shelves

Vacuum Behind the Fridge

Your fridge needs to be cleaned periodically so that it operates at peak efficiency. Ignore this chore and face another $5 to $10 per month in utility costs. Worst case: a visit from an appliance repair pro who’ll charge $75 to $150 per hour!

The object is to clean the condenser coils. Here’s how:

If the condenser coils are on the back of the refrigerator, then pull the unit out completely, and unplug it while you work on it. Brush or vacuum the coils to clean them, and clean up any dirt and dust on the floor.

Also, check to make sure your freezer vents are clear. Freezers circulate air to reduce frost, but piling up too much stuff in front of the little grill-like vents inside your freezer blocks their business.

If the condenser coils are on the bottom of the fridge, then you’ll need to clean them from the front of the unit.

Take off the bottom faceplate to expose the coils.

Clean dust using a condenser-cleaning brush ($8) or a long, thin vacuum attachment made for cleaning under refrigerators ($14).

You should still pull your refrigerator all the way out and vacuum up dirt and dust that accumulates in back of the unit. Unplug it while you work on it.

Put down a piece of cardboard so that grit under the wheels doesn’t scratch your flooring.

Winterize Your Entry

Keep winter’s slush and gunk at bay by making your entryway a dirt guardian.

  • Get a boot scraper ($19 to $35).
  • Add a chair or bench for taking off boots, and have a boot rack for wet footwear.
  • Put down a tough coir outdoor doormat ($30 to $190) for cleaning footwear.

Clean Windows

By some estimates, dirty window glass cuts daylight by 20%. That’s a lot less light coming in at a time of year when you really need it to help chase away winter blues.

Clean windows inside and out with a homemade non-toxic solution:

  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon eco-friendly dish detergent
  • 2 cups water

Wipe clean and polish using microfiber cloths.

Clean Ceiling Fan Blades

Those big blades on your ceiling fan are great at moving air, but when they’re idle they’re big dust magnets — dust settles on the top surfaces where you can’t see it.

Out of sight maybe, but not out of mind. Here’s an easy way to clean them: Take an old pillowcase and gently cover a blade. Pull it back slowly to remove the dust. The dust stays inside the pillowcase, instead of all over the floor, the furniture, your hair (ugh!).

Vacuum Out the Dryer Vent

This little chore should definitely be on your list. It prevents lint buildup that can create a fire hazard.

Tips for cleaning a dryer vent from the inside:

Pull out the dryer as far as the vent pipe allows. Disconnect the vent pipe from the dryer, and clean the outlet holes in the wall and the back of the dryer with a shop vac or regular vacuum.

Clean the vent pipe with a dryer snake cleaning tool ($15 to $20). This is a rotary brush on a cable. You can attach it to the chuck of an electric drill, which rotates the cable and the brush.

But, don’t use this tool on flexible plastic or foil vent pipes, only rigid metal. An electric drill may be too hard on the flexible tubing. Better to vacuum flexible tubing with a narrow nozzle.

Even better, for safety reasons, opt for rigid metal tubing, rather than flexible plastic or foil vent pipes, according to both the Consumer Product Safety Commission and U.S. Fire Administration. Flexible pipes trap lint, which is a fire hazard.

Change Furnace Filters

winter-cleaning-furnace-filter-standard_2f6558d4f2934399a491be398bc92192_860x600_q85Yeah, this is a no-brainer, which is why it’s last on this list. But everything else you do could be moot if you’re not changing your filters at least once every 60 days (more if you’re sensitive to allergies).

Air filters for furnaces are rated by level of efficiency. The higher the rating, the better the filter is at removing dirt, mold spores, and pet dander.

Filters are rated one of two ways (you’ll see the ratings on the packaging); higher numbers mean better efficiency, but there’s a point of diminishing returns — some filters with extremely high ratings also restrict air flow, making your HVAC work so hard that the system heats and cools inefficiently.

  • Minimum efficiency rating values (MERV) for filters range from 1 to 16, but 7 to 13 is typical for households (14 and up are used in hospitals).
  • Microparticle performance rating (MPR) range from 300 to 2,400.

Cheap filters cost about $2, but won’t do you much good. You’re better off paying $12 to $17 for a pleated filter with a 1250 MPR, or $20 to $25 for a filter rated 2,400.

Happy cleaning (and breathing!) this winter.

7 Mistakes That Cost Homeowners BIG Money During Cold Weather

winterizing-your-home-standard_1x1_c3c5e45cfb8efdd267f965c20f3c48a2_320x320_q85Avoid winter’s nastiest tricks.

Wintry weather is great at turning up problems you didn’t even know you had. Like that first snowy night in front of your fireplace that you thought was pure bliss — until you noticed a leak in the ceiling corner, which apparently was caused by a lack of insulationHow were you supposed to know that?

Many homeowners don’t realize they’re making critical missteps that can cost a ton when winter sets in. Here are seven wintertime mistakes homeowners often make (and what they could cost you!):

1. Not Buying a $2 Protector for Your Outdoor Faucet

What It’ll Cost You: Up to $15,000 and a whole lot of grief

It’s amazing what a little frozen water can do damage-wise. An inch of water in your basement can cost up to $15,000 to pump out and dry out. And, yet, it’s so easy to prevent, especially with outdoor faucets, which are the most susceptible to freezing temps.

The simplest thing to do is to remove your garden hose from your outdoor faucet and drain it. Then add a faucet protector to keep cold air from getting into your pipes. They’re really cheap (some are under $2; the more expensive ones are still less than $10). “Get these now,” says Danny Lipford, home improvement expert and host of the “Today’s Homeowner” television and radio shows. “When the weatherman says we’ve got cold coming, they’ll sell out in minutes.”

While you’re at it, make sure any exposed pipes in an unheated basement or garage are insulated, too, or you’ll face the same pricey problem.

Wrap pipes with foam plumbing insulation — before the weather drops. It’s cheap, too, just like the faucet cover (only $1 for six feet of polyethylene insulation). And it’s an easy DIY project, as long as you can reach the pipes.

2. Instagramming Your Icicles Instead of Preventing Them

What It’ll Cost You: $500 — if you’re lucky; a lot more if you’re not

Those icicles make your home look so picturesque, you just gotta take a few pics. But you better make them quick. Those icicles can literally be a dam problem. (Yes, dam — not the curse word that sounds the same. )

Icicles are a clear sign that you’ve got an ice dam, which is exactly what it sounds like: a buildup of ice on your gutter or roof that prevents melting snow and ice from flowing through your gutters. That’s really bad news because these icy blocks can lead to expensive roofing repairs.

Depending on where you live, expect to pay at least $500 for each ice dam to be steamed off. Leave the ice and you risk long-term damage, which could ultimately cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars to your roof, depending on what type of shingles you have and the size of the damaged area.

How to prevent them? Insulation. “Ice dams, icicles, and ice buildup on the gutters is a symptom of not enough insulation in the attic,” says Chris Johnson, owner of Navarre True Value and several other stores in the Twin Cities area.

And “you need to have at least 14 inches of insulation in your attic, no matter where you live,” says Lipford. If you live in a colder climate, you’ll need more.

If you don’t have the cash to insulate, heated gutter cables, which run between $50 and $150 each, can be a less expensive alternative when temporarily affixed to areas prone to ice damming, Johnson suggests.

3. Going Lazy on Your Gutters

What It’ll Cost You: You really don’t want to be in a position to find out

It can be so tempting to skip gutter cleanups as winter nears. It seems like as soon as you clear your gutters, they clog right back up again. So what’s the point?

Well, if it looks like you’re living inside a waterfall when it rains, water is missing your gutter system completely. It’s being directed to your foundation instead. And a water-damaged foundation is never, ever cheap to fix.

A contractor can plug foundation cracks for $1,500 to $3,000, says David Verbofsky, director of training for exterior home products manufacturer Ply Gem. But a worse problem, one that requires a foundation excavation or rebuild, can set you back (gulp) $30,000 or more.

Suddenly, cleaning your gutters a few times each fall doesn’t seem so bad. A pro can do the work for anywhere between $70 and $250, depending on the size of your gutter system.

4. Giving Cold Air a Chance to Sneak In

What It’ll Cost You: Nights where you never feel warm, despite sky-high heating bills

“If it were possible to take every crack on the outside of a typical home and drag them together, you’d have the equivalent of a three-by-three window open all the time,” says Lipford. Yikes.

Yet cracks can be easily and inexpensively sealed with a simple tube of caulk, and it’s available in hundreds of colors to match your window panes, outside siding, and even brick. Not sure where to caulk? Look for visible cracks around:

  • Window sills
  • Baseboards
  • Fireplace or dryer vents
  • Anywhere something inside pokes a hole to the outside

5. Not Getting Personal with Your Thermostat

What It’ll Cost You: Money you could spend on something else besides heating

We all know we should, but we seem to have some mental block when it comes to programming our thermostats to align with our schedules. It’s not that hard, and sometimes all it takes is buying a new one that suits you. (Like maybe a Wi-Fi one that’ll give you a little money-saving thrill each time you swipe your app.)

“From a cost-savings perspective, a programmable thermostat is a great investment,” Lipford says — as much as 10% off your energy bill, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

6. Skipping Furnace Tune-Ups

What It’ll Cost You: A furnace that’ll die years before it should — and higher energy bills

“Forget to service your furnace and you could easily cut five years off the life of your system,” says Lipford, who added that five years is a full third of the typical unit’s life span. New units can cost around $4,000 installed, making the $125 annual maintenance charge a no-brainer.

While you’re at it, don’t forget to replace the furnace filter, which cleans the air in your home, and also keeps your furnace coils cleaner, which can shave up to 15% off your energy bill. Johnson suggests at least every three months, but possibly as often as monthly if you have allergies, pets, or smoke cigarettes at home.

7. Foregoing a Fireplace Inspection

What It’ll Cost You: Possibly your life — and your home

“A cozy fire is great, but if you don’t maintain your chimney, a fire can cost you thousands of dollars,” says Johnson, not to mention the risk to you and your family.

Schedule your maintenance appointment as early as you can.”If you wait until the busy season, you’ll have a hard time getting them out there, you’ll pay more, and you’ll get a lower quality job,” says Lipford.