Top-Notch Tailgating Tips

tailgateheaderFor millions of people, football is an integral part of the holiday season, as high school, college, and pro football teams create their own unique level of excitement and local pride during the autumn and winter seasons.

To join in the excitement, many enjoy the long-held tradition of tailgating before the games. However, hosting the ultimate game-day football tailgate takes a lot of food, drinks, accessories, and planning. To get started, use this quick reference tailgating guide to get the game-day essentials for your tailgate, plus planning advice.

tailgateguideEvery good coach also knows that attention to detail is important for success, especially when you have a team (of fellow fans, in this case) depending on you. Download and print out this tailgating essentials checklist to make sure you have all your Xs and Os in order so you can keep your eyes on the prize—an unforgettable tailgating experience!

Hamptons Farmhouse Rebuild: James Huniford Design Studio

hamptons-farmhouse-rebuild-headerRustic meets modern in the rebuilding of this Hamptons farmhouse. James Huniford, a renowned New York-based interior designer whose distinctive style is on glorious display in this Water Mill, New York-based home. His design ideas and philosophy are currently being  highlighted in the featured AMERICAN LIFESTYLE article “Hamptons Farmhouse Rebuild: James Huniford Design Studio.”

hunniford-1James Huniford is known for having a distinguished style, but he prioritizes the uniqueness of his clients’—and their properties’—personalities. He combines contrasting elements and often features muted and more neutral colors in conjunction with defined lines, all of which he infuses with his clients’ individual tastes to produce unique modern masterpieces.

hunniford-2In fact, for the Water Mill project, Huniford drew inspiration during a drive with one of the home’s owners. The two were driving and noticed a barn that would be perfect exterior elevation for the home, which they were rebuilding from the ground up. That became the launchpad for the project. The combination of that rustic exterior with a clean, refined interior now makes for a perfect weekend home for the two creative minds who live there.

hunnifordWhere else does this prominent designer find inspiration? Huniford says that he draws his primarily from the ever-evolving Big Apple, which can fill him with ideas even as he walks through the streets, and he also looks to Paris, London, and Rome as other hubs for creativity. But he is also inspired to give back, which he does with his yearly benefit event Design on a Dime.

Harry’s Chana Masala: Vegan and Gluten-Free

Chana Masala doneA popular vegetarian dish throughout Northern India, Chana Masala is both vegan and gluten-free but definitely not lacking in flavour. “A dollop of comfortingly bolstering pulses bathed in a thick, tangy, deeply spiced gravy, it’s the kind of food that tastes of home”, whether home is Ahmedabad, Aberdeen or Asakura. Mumbai-born chef Maunika Gowardhan simmers her chickpeas with a black teabag, which she says is “common practice in Punjabi households”, lending the dish a rich smoky flavour and deep colour. One can’t taste the tea, but it does give the dish a lovely warm hue. In this recipe, my stepson Harry starts by soaking the chickpeas overnight in cold water then simmering them for a hour until tender. Once cooked, the chickpeas and tomatoes are simmered with a mixture of fried garlic, ginger, onion, and green chiles with a flury of traditional Indian spices including ground cumin, garam masala, coriander, and turmeric. A tin of San Marzano tomatoes are then added along with the cooked chickpeas and simmered until thick and lovely, about 20 minutes. Garnished with chopped cilantro before serving, Harry’s Channa Masala is definitely “pukka” or as he is currently living in Japan he would say — Oishii!

Harry’s Chana Masala
Serves 4-6
Recipe adapted from Felicity Cloake, The Guardian UK

8 oz dried chickpeas, soaked overnight
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 large onion, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves
1 oz fresh ginger, minced
1 oz fresh cilantro
1 hot green chilli, finely chopped – seeds optional
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 14 oz tin plum tomatoes, mashed
1 1/2 tsp fine salt
1 tsp garam masala
1 tbsp lemon juice

Place the dried chickpeas in large pot and cover with water twice the amount of chickpeas and bring to a boil. Cover and allow to simmer one hour.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy-based pan over a medium heat and when hot, add the cumin seeds. Fry until aromatic, stirring, then add the onion and turn the heat down. Cook until golden brown, stirring regularly.

Meanwhile use a pestle and mortar or stick blender to mash the garlic, ginger, cilantro and chillies into a paste, then place in the pan and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly. Then add the ground coriander, chilli power and turmeric plus a splash more oil if necessary, and cook for 2-3 more minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, chickpeas and some salt to taste. Bring to a lively simmer, then turn down the heat to medium low and cook for 20 minutes or until thickened.

Stir in the garam masala and lemon juice, then allow to cool slightly before serving scattered with the remaining coriander leaves.

5 Ways You Didn’t Know You Could Save for a Down Payment

down-payment-assistance-doormat-standard_1x1_d9bedb7619d84178e3ee2d5902c00577_620x620_q85One of the biggest misconceptions of home buying? The 20% down payment. Here’s how to buy with a lot less down.

Buying your first home conjures up all kinds of warm and fuzzy emotions: pride, joy, contentment. But before you get to the good stuff, you’ve got to cobble together a down payment, a daunting sum if you follow the textbook advice to squirrel away 20% of a home’s cost.

Here are five creative ways to build your down-payment nest egg faster than you may have ever imagined.

1. Crowdsource Your Dream Home

You may have heard of people using sites like Kickstarter to fund creative projects like short films and concert tours. Well, who says you can’t crowdsource your first home? Forget the traditional registry, the fine china, and the 16-speed blender. Use sites like Feather the Nest and Hatch My House to raise your down payment. Hatch My House says it’s helped Americans raise more than $2 million for down payments.

2. Ask the Seller to Help (Really!)

When sellers want to a get a deal done quickly, they might be willing to assist buyers with the closing costs. Fewer closing costs = more money you can apply toward your deposit.

“They’re called seller concessions,” says Ray Rodriguez, regional mortgage sales manager for the New York metro area at TD Bank. Talk with your real estate agent. She might help you negotiate for something like 2% of the overall sales price in concessions to help with the closing costs.

There are limits on concessions depending on the type of mortgage you get. For FHA mortgages, the cap is 6% of the sale price. For Fannie Mae-guaranteed loans, the caps vary between 3% and 9%, depending on the ratio between how much you put down and the amount you finance. Individual banks have varying caps on concessions.

No matter where they net out, concessions must be part of the purchase contract.

3. Look into Government Options

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, offers a number of homeownership programs, including assistance with down payment and closing costs. These are typically available for people who meet particular income or location requirements. HUD has a list of links by state that direct you to the appropriate page for information about your state.

HUD offers help based on profession as well. If you’re a law enforcement officer, firefighter, teacher, or EMT, you may be eligible under its Good Neighbor Next Door Sales Program for a 50% discount on a house’s HUD-appraised value in “revitalization areas.” Those areas are designated by Congress for  homeownership opportunities. And if you qualify for an FHA-insured mortgage under this program, the down payment is only $100; you can even finance the closing costs.

For veterans, the VA will guarantee part of a home loan through commercial lenders. Often, there’s no down payment or private mortgage insurance required, and the program helps borrowers secure a competitive interest rate.

Some cities also offer homeownership help. “The city of Hartford has the HouseHartford Program that gives down payment assistance and closing cost assistance,” says Matthew Carbray, a certified financial planner with Ridgeline Financial Partners and Carbray Staunton Financial Planners in Avon, Conn. The program partners with lenders, real estate attorneys, and homebuyer counseling agencies and has helped 1,200 low-income families.

4. Check with Your Employer

Employer Assisted Housing (EAH) programs help connect low- to moderate-income workers with down payment assistance through their employer. In Pennsylvania, if you work for a participating EAH employer, you can apply for a loan of up to $8,000 for down payment and closing cost assistance. The loan is interest-free and borrowers have 10 years to pay it back.

Washington University in St. Louis offers forgivable loans to qualified employees who want to purchase housing in specific city neighborhoods. University employees receive the lesser of 5% of the purchase price or $6,000 toward down payment or closing costs.

Ask the human resources or benefits personnel at your employer if the company is part of an EAH program.

5. Take Advantage of Special Lender Programs

Finally, many lenders offer programs to help people buy a home with a small down payment. “I would say that the biggest misconception [of homebuying] is that you need 20% for the down payment of a house,” says Rodriguez. “There are a lot of programs out there that need a total of 3% or 3.5% down.”

FHA mortgages, for example, can require as little as 3.5%. But bear in mind that there are both upfront and monthly mortgage insurance payments. “The mortgage insurance could add another $300 to your monthly mortgage payment,” Rodriguez says.

Some lender programs go even further. TD Bank, for example, offers a 3% down payment with no mortgage insurance program, and other banks may have similar offerings. “Check with your regional bank,” Rodriguez says. “Maybe they have their own first-time buyer program.”

Not so daunting after all, is it? There’s actually a lot of help available to many first-time buyers who want to achieve their homeownership dreams. All you need to do is a little research — and start peeking at those home listings!

Ready to get started? Click here!

7 Smart Strategies for Bathroom Remodeling

bathroom-storage-cabinet-kraftmaid_3x2_540x360_q85Here’s how to get the bathroom of your dreams without making your budget a nightmare.

You dream about a bathroom that’s high on comfort and personal style, but you also want materials, fixtures, and amenities with lasting value. Wake up! You can have both.

A midrange bathroom remodel is a solid investment, according to the “2015 Remodeling Impact Report” from the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. A bath remodel with a national median cost of $26,000 will recover about 58% of those costs when it’s time to sell your home.

Regardless of payback potential, you’ll probably be glad you went ahead and updated your bathroom. Homeowners polled for the “Report” gave their bathroom renovation a Joy Score of 9.3 — a rating based on those who said they were happy or satisfied with their project, with 10 being the highest rating and 1 the lowest.

remodel1. Stick to a Plan

A bathroom remodel is no place for improvisation. Before ripping out the first tile, think hard about how you will use the space, what materials and fixtures you want, and how much you’re willing to spend.

The National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) recommends spending up to six months evaluating and planning before beginning work. That way, you have a roadmap that will guide decisions, even the ones made under remodeling stress. Once work has begun — a process that averages two to three months — resist changing your mind. Work stoppages and alterations add costs. Some contractors include clauses in their contracts that specify premium prices for changing original plans.

If planning isn’t your strong suit, hire a designer. In addition to adding style and efficiency, a professional designer makes sure contractors and installers are scheduled in an orderly fashion. A pro charges $100 to $200 per hour, and spends 10 to 30 hours on a bathroom project.

2. Keep the Same Footprint

You can afford that Italian tile you love if you can live with the total square footage you already have.

Keeping the same footprint, and locating new plumbing fixtures near existing plumbing pipes, saves demolition and reconstruction dollars. You’ll also cut down on the dust and debris that make remodeling so hard to live with.

Make the most of the space you have. Glass doors on showers and tubs open up the area. A pedestal sink takes up less room than a vanity. If you miss the storage, replace a mirror with a deep medicine cabinet.

3. Make Lighting a Priority

Multiple shower heads and radiant heat floors are fabulous adds to a bathroom remodel. But few items make a bathroom more satisfying than lighting designed for everyday grooming. You can install lighting for a fraction of the cost of pricier amenities.

Well-designed bathroom task lighting surrounds vanity mirrors and eliminates shadows on faces: You look better already. The scheme includes two ceiling- or soffit-mounted fixtures, and side fixtures or sconces distributed vertically across 24 inches (to account for people of various heights). Four-bulb lighting fixtures work well for side lighting.

Today, shopping for bulbs means paying attention to lumens, the amount of light you get from a bulb — i.e., brightness. For these bathroom task areas, the Lighting Research Center recommends:

  • Toilet: 45 lumens
  • Sink: 450 lumens
  • Vanity: 1,680 lumens

4. Clear the Air

Bathroom ventilation systems may be out of sight, but they shouldn’t be out of mind during a bathroom remodel.

Bathroom ventilation is essential for removing excess humidity that fogs mirrors, makes bathroom floors slippery, and contributes to the growth of mildew and mold. Controlling mold and humidity is especially important for maintaining healthy indoor air quality and protecting the value of your home — mold remediation is expensive, and excess humidity can damage cabinets and painted finishes.

A bathroom vent and water closet fan should exhaust air to the outside — not simply to the space between ceiling joists. Better models have whisper-quiet exhaust fans and humidity-controlled switches that activate when a sensor detects excess moisture in the air.

5. Think Storage

Bathroom storage is a challenge: By the time you’ve installed the toilet, shower, and sink, there’s often little space left to store towels, toilet paper, and hair and body products. Here are some ways to find storage in hidden places.

  • Think vertically: Upper wall space in a bathroom is often underused. Freestanding, multi-tiered shelf units designed to fit over toilet tanks turn unused wall area into found storage. Spaces between wall studs create attractive and useful niches for holding soaps and toiletries. Install shelves over towel bars to use blank wall space.
  • Think moveable: Inexpensive woven baskets set on the floor are stylish towel holders. A floor-stand coat rack holds wet towels, bath robes, and clothes.
  • Think utility: Adding a slide-out tray to vanity cabinet compartments provides full access to stored items and prevents lesser-used items from being lost or forgotten.

6. Contribute Sweat Equity

Shave labor costs by doing some work yourself. Tell your contractor which projects you’ll handle, so there are no misunderstandings later.

Some easy DIY projects:

  • Install window and baseboard trim; save $250.
  • Paint walls and trim, 200 square feet; save $200.
  • Install toilet; save $150.
  • Install towel bars and shelves; save $20 each.

7. Choose Low-Cost Design for High Visual Impact

A “soft scheme” adds visual zest to your bathroom, but doesn’t create a one-of-a-kind look that might scare away future buyers.

Soft schemes employ neutral colors for permanent fixtures and surfaces, then add pizzazz with items that are easily changed, such as shower curtains, window treatments, towels, throw rugs, and wall colors. These relatively low-cost decorative touches provide tons of personality but are easy to redo whenever you want.

You Can’t Detect These 4 Stinky Smells, But Your Guests Can. Smell Better Fast

noseblind-dog_1x1_165154edce137e62966a0b522abe9686_165x165_q85You’re noseblind to your home’s odors. Here’s how to find and eliminate the smelly culprits.

Stand in your kitchen and take a deep breath. Smell that? From last night’s fish to your son’s nasty lacrosse pads (why did he leave them on the table?), you probably can’t detect any of your home’s rankest odors. You’ve got nose blindness.

“You adapt to the smells around you,” says Dr. Richard Doty, the director of the Smell and Taste Center at the University of Pennsylvania. On a sensory level, your processing mechanism becomes less sensitive to the continuous stimuli. Or, on a cognitive level, you can become habituated to the smells and basically learn to ignore them. Or you can do both.

But on a I-don’t-want-my-house-to-stink level, you don’t have to be resigned to living with odors — even if you can’t smell them yourself. Here are some of the most common nose blindness culprits, and how to ban them from your home.

1. Love Your Pet. Destroy Their Smells.

There’s one easy way to tell if your home smells like pets: Do you have them? Then yeah, unless you’re an obsessive cleaner and groomer, your abode has at least some Fido funk. It could be pee, but more likely it’s just hair, gunky ears, and weeks-old slobber.

The first step to cleaning up pet smells is — sorry, pets — cleaning the pets themselves. Bathe and groom them regularly.

Then, vacuum, vacuum, vacuum. If they have a favorite couch or cushion, cover it with a blanket and run it — and the cushion cover — through the wash weekly. Every time you vacuum, start with a hearty sprinkle of baking soda on the carpet. And use that crevice tool liberally; pet hair loves tight spaces like the border between the carpet and the wall, the edges of your steps and that little crack of space between the stove and your cabinets.

Hopefully urine isn’t the issue, but to be sure, you can use a black light to out any dried stains your pet was hoping you’d never notice. Use more of that baking soda followed by a half-water, half-vinegar solution to neutralize the odor. Lots of people also swear by store-bought neutralizers, like Nature’s Miracle.

onion2. Battle Basement Mustiness … With Onion?

Fortunately, nose blindness only affects one of your senses, and you don’t need your nose to verify a basement with a musty smell. Mustiness is caused by mildew and mold, which — for better or for worse — your eyeballs can easily detect. Do a careful inspection of your basement, from the darkest corner to the surface of every cardboard box or bookshelf. If you find gray or white splotches anywhere, it’s probably mildew. If it’s fuzzy, (oh no!) it’s mold.

First, you’ll want to bust up those existing odors. Then, you’ll want to make sure they never return. A solution of one-part bleach to four-parts water and some elbow grease will help you scrub away mildew. Although bleach can be used to clean mold too, it usually isn’t necessary. A regular household cleaner can do the trick.

To prevent mildew and mold from returning, consider running a dehumidifier or improving air circulation and sunlight exposure in the affected area if possible. For chronic mustiness, you can deodorize rooms by setting out bowls of vinegar, cat litter, baking soda, or — as crazy as this sounds — an onion also will do the trick. Cut one in half and let it sit in a bowl in the room. The onion smell goes away in a few hours, and so will the dankness.

3. Mind Mattress Smells

Similar to pet odors, knowing if your mattress could smell is easy: Do you have a human body with skin and oils? Do you sleep on it? Eventually, all the dead skin and body oils you shed while sleeping are going to build up, and stink they will, especially if your bedding is older.

You can’t exactly toss your mattress in the washing machine, so you’ll have to deal with it where it lies. But it’s an easy fix: Sprinkle baking soda on it, let it sit for an hour or more, and then vacuum up the soda. (This works for memory foam, too.) Add a couple drops of essential oil to the soda (drip directly into the box and shake it well to mix evenly) for a pleasant smell. Bonus: Lavender has been shown to help you sleep.

baking soda4. Fade Fridge and Freezer Funk 

It’s your fridge and freezer’s job to keep your food fresh, but they need a little help staying fresh themselves. Itty bitty food bits hang out long after you’ve tossed the item from which they came. Although you might not notice the odor creep, you may notice your ice starting to taste funny or see those food morsels start to accumulate in the corners of your fridge shelves. If you see or taste something icky, you can bet others can smell something icky.

To zap odors from from your freezer and fridge, unplug and empty them and do a thorough cleaning with a mix of hot water and baking soda. You can sanitize with a solution of one tablespoon bleach and one gallon of water. Let it air out for 15 minutes. Try wiping it down with vinegar for extra odor eliminating, or even leave the door open for a few days. What better excuse is there for a long weekend away, or to treat yourself to takeout?

10 Residential Design Trends We’re Likely to See in 2016

white roomDuring one presentation at the International Builders’ Show in Las Vegas, Joe Digrado, a senior associate with the Danielian Associates architecture firm, and Richard Smith, of design-build firm RJ Associates, presented what they consider the most prominent trends that residential designers should keep an eye on this year.

According to Digrado and Smith, these are 10 trends we can expect from residential builders during 2016.

copper tub1. Freestanding Copper Bathtubs

Called “the ultimate in fine bathroom couture” by HGTV, freestanding bathtubs are finished on all sides and can stand alone. They come in many shapes and finishes, but copper bathtubs, especially freestanding tubs, were featured in several award-winning BALA designs this year. They can “add a twist to a myriad of decors, from rustic to traditional designs,” according to the presenters. “These freestanding bathtubs seem to be all the rage now. We’re seeing them everywhere,” Smith told Construction Dive.

Expect to see more freestanding copper tubs in mid- to high-end homes under construction or renovation this year, starting at about $2,000.

2. Outdoor Tables With Water Features

The sound of running water can be soothing, and a table with a trough for running water provides a focal point to any outdoor space. Smith and Digrado say outdoor tables are seeing a “revamp this year” to include “open, trough-like water paths that often lead to a waterfall off the edge of the table.”

In this project in Dallas shared on, a concrete picnic table doubles as a water feature with small pond outlets on both ends. “Falling water can be heard from every communal space in the house, as well as from the master bedroom,” says

Says Digrado, “Water features are great. I don’t care where you are in the country. Just a little splash really helps out.”

waterfall island3. Waterfall Kitchen Islands

The waterfall kitchen island, with the benchtop surface cascading down one or both sides of the benchtop to the floor, is a relatively affordable and practical design, which allows the island to be used as a breakfast bar or for extra storage. “(Waterfall islands) seem to be coming back,” Smith says.

“Homebuyers continue to show demand for these kitchen additions, which can be made of granite, marble, or wood.”

4. Indoor-Outdoor Convergence

According to the presenters, new homes will feature a more fluid and undefined separation between indoor and outdoor spaces so families can both visually and physically move between these areas.

These new designs often include “floor-to-ceiling retractable glass walls and screens, stackable doors and new floor materials that contribute to a sense of converging the outdoors with the indoors,” the presenters noted.

5. Intricate Stairways

Though often taken for granted as a link between two floors, staircases are major architectural features that have the power to make an ordinary home something spectacular, notes

Indeed, staircases with iron posts and other new design elements were prominent design features in BALA winners this year, according to Digrado and Smith.

“Overall, designers are starting to move staircases closer to the front of a home to offer more of a unique design feature that can be the focal point of an entrance,” Digrado told Construction Dive.

patio6. Intimate Outdoor Spaces

According to Construction Dive, outdoor space was “one of the most-buzzed-about areas” at the conference.

The article notes that outdoor spaces “have become almost as important as the interior of the home, as owners look for a relaxing area where they can socialize and de-stress. This emerging trend often includes outdoor fireplaces or pits and a small seating area.”

“Outdoor space is really becoming an important part of the design of a home,” Smith says. “It’s as much living space as the indoor space, even in colder climates. People value being outside, and in a number of places, they were making slightly smaller homes because the outdoor space is much more prominent.”

7. Modern Industrial Accents, Especially for Multi-Family Residential

The presenters told Construction Dive that multifamily designs now often include modern industrial accents, which feature “sleek furniture and lighting, as well as bright colors amid the metals in the design.”

“If done right, [modern industrial accents] are very effective,” Smith says. “It’s been around for a while, but it’s pushing more into the residential now.

8. Low-Impact Design

This year’s award-winning designs often featured “green and sustainable elements that were conscious of their surrounding environments,” notes the article.

“Homebuyers will continue to request designs that incorporate native species in landscaping, permeable pavement, and other green features,” say the presenters.

lighting9. Mid-century Modern Detailing

Mid-century modern is “now 21st century chic in furniture, elevation design, and detailing,” says NAHB.

Homes, especially in Nevada and California, are starting to incorporate mid-century modern details again, say the presenters. “It’s a trend in production housing that is more contemporary. It hasn’t worked its way into production homes until now. Mid-century detailing is very unusual. It needs to be done right,” says Digrado.

“What we’re seeing is maybe a contemporary version of a traditional style,” adds Smith.

10. White Rooms Incorporating Repurposed Wood

Stark white interiors with “accents of exotic or repurposed wood in ceilings, flooring and cabinetry” were noted by the judges as an important trend to bring warmth to a modern setting. “Everyone thinks of contemporary as very cold and hard, but just the introduction of wood to the white really warms it up a lot. It gives a nice contrast and warms the room up,” Digrado says.

Avocado, Blueberry & Pumpkin Seed Salad

Avocado Salad
Spanish conquistadors had their own historian, Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo, who reported positively about avocados discovered in Mexico around 1519, but this creamy fruit has graced Central and South America cuisine for thousands of years, according to the avocado-inspired drawings and artifacts found in early Aztec settlements. With nearly 20 vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients in an avocado, not to mention nutrition-rich and antioxidant benefits of blueberries and pumpkin seeds, this gorgeous ‘super-food’ summer salad with heart healthy fats as well as potent antioxidants, is gluten-free and absolutely delicious.
Avocado, Blueberry & Pumpkin Seed Salad
Serves 2
1 head Romain lettuce, washed and chopped
2 ripe avocados, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup fresh blueberries
1 tbsp pumpkin seeds
1-2 tbsp olive oil, to taste
Maldon and fresh cracked white pepper, for garnishArrange the chopped lettuce on a decorative platter then top with the sliced avocado. Drizzle the olive oil over the salad and season with malden salt and fresh cracked pepper, then garnish with the blueberries and pumpkin seeds.

What Lenders Should Know About Americans’ Appetite for Remodeling Homes By Susanna Kim

remodelingRising home prices and the aging population are fueling Americans’ appetite for remodeling. As the Baby Boomers enter their retirement years, the desire to grow older in your own home is rising as a reason to remodel, according to a survey from the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB).

“Remodeling market conditions are positive, and business is growing,” says Robert Dietz, NAHB chief economist.

The quarterly National Association of Homebuilders’ Remodeling Market Index, a measure of remodeler market confidence, stood at a level of 53 for the second quarter of 2016. Although it slipped one point from the first quarter, any score above a level of 50 indicates that more remodelers view market conditions as positive rather than poor. The index has been in positive territory for 13 straight quarters.

The National Association of Homebuilders asked remodelers to rate the reasons customers want to remodel on a scale of 1 (“never/almost never”) to 5 (“very often”). In the NAHB’s survey from the first quarter, the top two reasons cited were, unsurprisingly, a desire for new or better amenities and a need to repair or replace old components. However, there have been some notable changes in reasons to remodel from 2012 to 2016, Dietz says.

Aging in Place, Sharing Homes

The NAHB survey notes customers citing “desire to be able to age in place” “often” or “very often” as a reason for remodeling, according to homebuilders surveyed, has increased to 39 percent in 2016 from 32 percent in 2012.

The desire for new amenities and the need for additional living space have been rising in importance too. Dietz says this is a consequence of higher rates of multigenerational households. The NAHB’s analysis indicates that as of 2014, more than 20 percent of young adults ages 25 to 34, or 8.8 million, live with their parents or in-laws. In 2000, this share was less than 11 percent.

What Renovators Want 

remodelWith the hope to age in place rising as the Baby Boomers enter their retirement years, those choosing to retire in their existing home will likely seek to make changes, both in terms of function and style, Dietz says.

Energy-efficiency, for example, is a priority for many homeowners, given the nation’s aging housing stock, Dietz says. The median age of a home was 37 years in 2013, compared to 27 in 1993, according to the latest American Housing Survey published by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

For borrowers — whether buying or refinancing a home — who want to finance water and energy efficiency improvement projects, there are options to roll those costs into a new mortgage. Fannie Mae’s HomeStyle® Energymortgage lets borrowers finance up to 15 percent of the as-completed appraised value of the home.

Fannie Mae’s HomeStyle® Renovation mortgage similarly helps borrowers make improvement projects totaling up to 50 percent of the as-completed appraised value of the property with a first mortgage.

The Future of the Remodeling Market

NAHB is forecasting growth of just below 3 percent for aggregate improvement spending for 2016, as market conditions remain positive, and additional growth in 2017, according to Dietz.

While demographics and rising home equity — a consequence of rising home prices — are pluses, there are some potential drawbacks for remodelers and those financing renovation projects. Dietz says expansion in this market will be limited due to flat inventory conditions in the home resale market, which will hold back existing home sales.

On the supply side of the renovation market, remodelers, like builders, are facing challenges accessing labor, Dietz says. In late 2015, a survey by NAHB indicated that 80 percent of remodelers reported a shortage of finished carpenters.

“This is an issue for the entire construction sector,” Dietz says.

There’s another group of homebuyers who will unlock additional demand for remodeling services and provide additional demand for new home construction, he says.

“Looking forward, as Generation Y increases its participation in the for-sale housing market, these prospective buyers will enable existing owners of entry levels homes to sell their current residence,” Dietz says.

7 Simple Home Remodeling Strategies for the Easily Overwhelmed

home-renovation-stress-standard_1x1_8591003424ec45637e53f2720ccec6bc_165x165_q85A remodel should be joyful — not stressful.

Which stresses you out more? The mere thought of adding a bathroom (so many contractors, so many unknowns, and you’re too busy already!) or fighting for Monday-morning mirror time for all eternity?

If it feels like a toss-up, you’re not alone. Remodeling can be overwhelming. With so much going on in your life already, it just feels easier to deal with a home that’s not quite right than to get swamped with one more gargantuan thing, right?

Wrong! A remodel doesn’t haveto be so all-consuming. With a few stress-sparing strategies, it’s totally doable — and totally worth it. Use these tips, and you’ll never have to step on your toddler’s rubber duckies while showering again.

1. Start By Making Sure Your Contractor Isn’t Overwhelmed

Most homeowners choose summer to do a major remodel because they know freezing temps won’t be a problem. But that also means contractors are super swamped and stressed to the max during summer. Not a good combo for a remodel to come in on time and on budget (not to mention what it’ll do to your blood pressure).

“Working in the summer is a complete nightmare,” says Atlanta-based interior designer Brian Patrick Flynn.”It’s so hot that sometimes there are only certain times of the day people can work.”

Try to schedule your remodel during a less hectic time for contractors. You’d be surprised how much can get done in an off-season. You could also save on costs — a great stress reliever. Woo hoo!

2. Discover Any Quirks That Will Drive You Nuts

We get it. With all the plates you’re currently spinning, skimming online contractor reviews is way more appealing than interviewing references. But this person is going to be inside your house. For days. Maybe weeks! What if his working style is dramatically different than yours? What if the crew drives you nuts? Talk about added stress.

“There might be a thing that’s a huge pet peeve of yours that means you’re not going to work well with that person,” says Flynn.

Ask contractors for references, and chat up the former customers about timeliness, personality, and working style. Does the crew listen to death metal at full volume? Are they all business, or will they pepper you with awkward chitchat? Finding a pro who does great work and is a good fit will take much of the crazy out of your remodel.

3. Look Beyond the Bottom Line of Bids

Just like reading online reviews, accepting your first decent bid may seem like a savvy shortcut, but there’s a reason you’ve heard about getting at least three. The key is to look beyond the bids’ bottom line. A higher estimate can cover solutions to worrisome construction problems like clean up, insurance to cover dented walls, or working at night to fit your schedule. Picking these amenities over a bargain can eliminate some big headaches.

Speaking of headaches, skimping on bid details can cause your temples to throb in another way. Sometimes they don’t include everything. Seriously. Flynn says hidden costs like drop cloths or the installation and removal of scaffolding can make projects go up to 20% or 30% over budget. Be sure to ask if you’ll be responsible for any costs not documented in your bid.

4. Opt for the Pampered Approach

Really want to treat yo’ self? Or need to, considering your schedule? Get an expert to be the boss instead of you. Overseeing the idiosyncrasies of a renovation can be maddening. Do you have time to educate yourself on the certifications and tests required by projects in rooms with plumbing? When your contractor has a question about a thermostatic valve issue, do you want her calling you for your advice?

“It’s smart to spend extra money to have a true professional project manager,” says Flynn. “If you just pay someone that extra money every week, you don’t have to worry about things you don’t understand.” (Median hourly wage is $46.)

Flynn recommends seeking out and vetting a project manager with experience in your type of project. A good one will save you guesswork that can hold up construction and make you want to pull your hair out.

5. Let the Contractor Handle Permits

Keeping tabs on permit deadlines and booking appointments with historical review boards can feel like a second job for even the most organized homeowner. In fact, it is a job; it just doesn’t have to be yours.

Chip Wade, a home improvement expert and consultant with Liberty Mutual Insurance, suggests skipping the homeowner self-work affidavit (which puts you, the homeowner, responsible for all the liability on the job) and letting your general contractor handle approvals and permits. The small added cost of your contractor’s time will literally take things off of your to-do list.

6. Stay on Schedule by Setting Benchmark Deadlines

Nothing makes for a low-stress remodel like staying on schedule. Your contractor should be willing to create benchmarks at the beginning of the project. Sticking to them? You’re going to want to keep an eye on that.

Typical benchmarks include demolition, framing, electrical, inspections and the like. Share a calendar with your contractor (a digital one like Google calendar is super convenient, but an old-fashioned paper one will work too) and check in as benchmarks creep up.

Why bother? Wade recommends intervening once two of these benchmarks are missed. One missed benchmark still allows contractors to make up time. Two is when the timetable (and budget) could derail — creating that sinking feeling you’ve worked so hard to avoid.

7. Control the Money

The more motivated your contractors are, the less harried you will be. Paying in small installments as work is done can discourage a strong finish and result in sloppy work.

The typical recommendation is to pay no more than 10% up front. But Wade recommends a 50/50 split with the contractor, assuming you’ve done your homework and your contractor is a reputable one — and it’s legal to do in your state (California, for example, has a law saying you can’t put down more than 10%). Fifty percent is more than a contractor typically gets for a down payment, which is a benefit to him. But have the contract specify that the remaining 50% will be paid upon completion, which is the benefit to you because it motivates him to finish the job to collect the rest of his money.

If that option isn’t open to you, another way is to offer bonuses, which is what Flynn’s project managers do. On tight schedules, pros who hit benchmarks before their due dates receive a bonus (the amount varies depending on scope and difficulty).

“They see an opportunity to make an extra few bucks, and it always works,” says Flynn. This can be the push your pros need when your guest bath needs to be ready before your in-laws arrive for a lengthy Thanksgiving weekend — without you spending your valuable time begging and pleading (and stressing) to make it happen.

99-Cent Store Solution #2: Torn Window Screen


Get rid of one of life’s greatest annoyances for less than a buck.

Among the things that make us nuts:

  • An empty carton of milk in the fridge
  • A flat tire

No need for a handyman or a replacement screen. You’ll find the right bug deterrent at the 99-cent store, if it’s not already on hand in your bathroom cabinet. But going to the dollar store is fun — you never know what you’ll find. Like cheap soda.


  • Clear nail polish, 99 cents
  • Two slightly dented cans of soda, 99 cents
  • Total: $1.98

What you do:

  • Apply the clear nail polish on both sides of the torn area. Slather it on so it builds up a nice barrier.
  • Watch it dry transparently.
  • Enjoy your soda.

Is a Tankless Water Heater Right for You?

tankless-water-heater-takagi_1x1_23205fb3136e1af43c4b42479f263510_165x165_q85If you’re debating replacing your hot water heater with a tankless version, also known as an on-demand water heater, here’s what you need to know to make the right decision.

What’s the Advantage of Going Tankless?

Traditional hot water heaters typically live in your basement and provide gallons of hot water at one time: an 80-gallon tank heats enough water to shower, run a dishwasher, and do a load of laundry simultaneously. But standby energy loss is significant with traditional hot water heaters, and once you’ve exhausted the hot water supply, you’ll wait 20 to 60 minutes for the heater to cook up more.

A tankless water heater produces hot water only when you need it. When you turn on the faucet, water is heated on the spot as it flows through capillary-like pipes heated by either a powerful gas burner or electric coils. (There are no oil-fired on-demand water heaters on the market.)

By bringing hot water close to where it’s needed, you reduce energy loss and increase efficiency by 50% over a conventional hot water tank system, about $165 in annual savings for an average household.

What’s the Downside?

Although a tankless water heater can pump hot water all day, it can’t produce a large amount all at once. And it can snap you out of a hot-shower bliss with the “cold water sandwich effect,” a sudden splash of cold water that results from turning the hot water faucet on and off repeatedly.

A traditional tank heater puts out 7.5 to 9.5 gallons of water per minute (GPM), enough to shower, run the dishwasher, and do a load of laundry all at the same time. The typical tankless water heater, however, puts out only 2.5 to 5 GPM, enough to handle only two uses at a time.

Be warned: Not all flow rates are calculated the same. Energy Star measures GPM based on a 77-degree increase in water temperature needed to heat water, while some companies list their GPM flows at 35- and 45-degree rises. The more heat the water requires, the slower the flow rate.

Possible solution to the “cold water sandwich”: Install multiple on-demand units. Because it’s small — about the size of a carry-on suitcase — you can place a tankless water heater along any stretch of pipe: In the attic, basement, closet, or crawlspace. You can install two or three units to serve different parts of the house, or even dedicate a unit for a particular use — say, a washing machine. Multiple on-demand units increase overall energy efficiency.

How Much Do They Cost?

Gas-fired tankless water heater: This system costs $1,500 to buy and install, nearly double the price of a conventional gas water heater, and $575 more than a high-efficiency tank model. In addition, while a conventional water heater typically uses a half-inch gas line, a tankless water heater requires three-quarter-inch pipe. That plumbing change costs from $25 to $40 per foot, potentially adding many hundreds to initial costs. On the bright side, your new energy-efficient unit may qualify for a federal tax credit of up to $300 on purchase and installation through 2013.

Electric tankless water heater: Much cheaper. It can cost as little as $400 installed. But it doesn’t qualify for a tax credit because it is less efficient than gas and is better suited for point-of-use applications, such as instant kitchen hot water, rather than a whole-house system.

Kaboom! Kebobs: Sweet and Spicy Skewers

kaboomkebobs_headerSweet and spicy is an irresistible combination—and that’s especially true with one of summertime’s most popular grilling foods, kebobs. Now you can pack even more flavor into these finger foods by making kaboom! kebobs, an appetizer that features spicy chicken with pineapple and just screams summer!


  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons garlic salt
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground mustard
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 can pineapple chunks


  1. Cut chicken breasts into bite-size cubes. Set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine black pepper, garlic salt, chili powder, onion powder, ground mustard, and cayenne pepper. Mix together thoroughly. Add vegetable oil and water to the seasoning, and stir to combine.
  3. Transfer seasoning marinade and the chicken chunks to a ziplock bag, adding more water if necessary to completely cover the chicken. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or overnight to allow the flavors to soak into the chicken.
  4. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Empty the marinated chicken into a baking dish, spreading the meat evenly to create a single layer. Bake for 23 to 25 minutes.
  5. Pair the chicken bites with pineapple chunks, and assemble onto toothpicks or skewers. Arrange on a serving platter, and serve warm.

Is It OK to Use the Bathroom When You’re Touring a House? (and 4 Other Questions You’re Afraid to Ask)

open-house-etiquette-bathroom_7ef25b4354276b85ee072df481a830ecIt’s a marathon house-hunting day. As you check out listing No. 5’s brand new windows, it suddenly hits you: “Oh man, I have to go to the bathroom.”

Should you, or shouldn’t you?

Navigating do’s and don’ts can be totally awkward, so we asked the pros everything most buyers secretly want to know.

Well, Can I Use the Bathroom?

If you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go — but don’t just wander off and take care of business. It might not work in every house. Literally.

“Ask permission,” says Pat Vredevoogd Combs, past president of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF  REALTORS® who works and lives inGrand Rapids, Mich. Vacant houses, especially in winter, may have the water shut off, so there’s no way to flush. That’s something you really want to know before you go.

And if you’re at a busy open house, being in the loo for more than a minute means other potential buyers can’t check out the facilities — and may not want to after you’ve, um, done your business.

To be safe, schedule in a few pit stops at restaurants or gas stations along the way, suggests Vredevoogd Combs.

Is It OK to Bring in My Coffee?

We’re pretty sure ordering house hunters to forgo coffee qualifies as “cruel and unusual punishment” in some states. But if you’re carrying a drink, be careful — unless you’re prepared to go mano a mano with the floor.

“So many first-time home buyers are millennials, and I almost never see them without a cup of Starbucks in their hand,” Vredevoogd Combs says. “I had one guy spill his coffee on white carpeting and we had to get down on our hands and knees to clean it up.”

Food, on the other hand, is no bueno, unless the seller has left out cookies. By all means, take one, but eat it in the kitchen. Preferably over a napkin.

Can I Peek in the Closet?

“Absolutely,” says Tg Glazer, 2016 president of the New Jersey Association of REALTORS®. “Buying a home is probably the biggest purchase you’re ever going to make, and you need to check out everything.”

Basically, look all you want, but don’t rifle around. You’re shopping for closet space, not a new wardrobe.

How About a Quick Selfie With This Awesome, Lemon-Colored Range?

With smartphones being practically an appendage for many buyers, snapping pics to share with friends and family is so easy. But hold your trigger finger, especially if you’re planning to share the images online.

Whether you can take photos and videos “seems to be a regional custom,” Vredevoogd Combs says. “In some cases, sellers have valuable things and don’t even want their homes promoted online. Ask permission first.”

Can I Plop Down on That Chaise Lounge?

Vredevoogd Combs says she’s not a fan. “Feeling comfortable enough to want to sit on the furniture might be a good intent to buy, but it isn’t your furniture and you’re not buying it.” Plus, that cozy looking couch or comfy bed might be staged — air beds or cardboard boxes wearing fancy clothes — so you might take a spill.

If you need to sit, for health reasons or that sprained ankle from your last marathon, just ask. That’s not unreasonable.

The bottom line is the old-fashioned Golden Rule: Do unto others’ homes as you’d have them do unto yours.

“Be on your best behavior,” says Vredevoogd Combs. Pretend the seller is there — and sometimes they are, even if you can’t see them. They might be waiting next door at a neighbor’s house and wander back at any minute. So it’s also a good idea to keep comments to yourself. You wouldn’t want them to overhear how much you love the master suite — that could mess up your negotiating power if you decide to buy.

Bathroom Renovations a Germophobe Would Love

easy-to-clean-bathroom-large-floor-tiles_7c5613232dc068514679bad7ea6ed0fb_3x2_jpg_518x345_q85Banish germs, dirt, and grime with a smart bathroom remodel that makes it harder for the nasty stuff to set up house.

No matter if you keep your home sealed tight, leave the windows open, have a steady stream of visitors stopping by, or prefer to be alone, microbes will worm their way into your pad. Check out these five bathroom upgrades that’ll give you a fighting chance against germs, dirt, and bacteria. Game. On.

Get Rid of the Grout

Who says a bathroom has to have tile? Dirt and grime love to cling to the gritty grout between tiles. To banish it from your bathroom for good, try glass or waterproofed real-stone veneer. They come in large sheets — hardly any grout needed. Maybe some at the joints, but that’s better than the entire wall and floor.

If you want to go completely groutless, there’s an ancient Moroccan technique called tadelakt that uses lime-based plaster, which is waterproof, resists mold and mildew, and, best of all, is sealed with a soap solution to keep grime away. It’s worked for centuries, so it should work in your bath, too. It’s pricey, though, because it requires trained artisans to apply.easy-to-clean-bathroom-tadelakt_9b21a7018080da4e7c0a04bb92b68c02

An affordable alternative, suggests Stephanie Horowitz, managing director of ZeroEnergy Design in Boston, is to opt for large tiles with narrower grout lines. “It’s a fresh, modern look that requires minimal upkeep,” she says.

No-Touch Faucets

Sensor-operated faucets aren’t just for crowded airport and mall restrooms. They’re growing in popularity in homes, too. If germs are your No. 1 enemy, a sensor faucet is a good choice because without touch, it’s tough for germs to find a foothold. Some models also light up when you approach the sink — a cool, futuristic bonus for when you’re stumbling around in the middle of the night.

But because sensor faucets require a battery or electrical connection, users have complained that they break down more. Funny thing, though. Many say they would buy it again because they love the touchless feature.

easy-to-clean-bathroom-no-touch-faucet_0a7fbdd2b66a89954cbfd7859e40acd3Just don’t expect them to save you water. The last official study by the Alliance for Water Efficiency (in 2009) found they actually used more water.

Copper Fixtures

If hospitals have recognized the anti-germ properties of good-old copper in battling hospital-acquired infections, it seems like a good bet for our bathrooms, too. A South Carolina Medical University study found that copper placed on surfaces, like bed rails, helped reduce hospital-acquired infections by 58%.

Another study throws a little cold water on this theory, though. Research from the University of Leicester in England suggests that human sweat left on copper could counteract the germ-fighting benefits. Still, routine cleaning can help deal with sweat.

By the way, there are copper alloys in brass, so how about installing brass doorknobs on your bathroom door — or throughout your whole house, germophobes?

easy-to-clean-bathroom-one-piece-toilet_7b488c5444e2369b37e4dd8d376eb335Easy-Clean Toilets

If you’ve ever transformed into a contortionist while reaching to clean every last yucky crevice in your toilet, the one-piece model was made for you. Because traditional two-piece toilets have a separate bowl and tank, they have lots of tiny crevices that are hard to really get clean. You may spend a bit more for a one-piece model, which is molded from a single piece of porcelain, but the amount of scrubbing time you save may make it worthwhile. Plus, you don’t have to get up close and personal with the nasty parts.

Today’s pressure-assisted toilets not only reduce cleaning time, but virtually eliminate backups, thanks to a forceful jet of water that scrubs the entire bowl and removes everything in its path. On this one, you’ll actually save water. Because of their eco-smart designs, these high-efficiency toilets can save a family of four up to 16,500 gallons of water annually.

easy-to-clean-bathroom-exhaust-fan_3a35a7a786af651ce7b0e1ec528d3f6fInstall a Good Exhaust Fan

This is probably the least-sexy upgrade, but did you know it’s the No. 1 feature buyers want in a bathroom? That’s probably because it’s so effective at fighting bad micro-organisms. Not only does a good exhaust fan fight mold, mildew, and other nasty micro-orgasms, it protects your walls, paint, and trim. If left unchecked, excess moisture can cause your wallboard, paint, and trim to deteriorate. So spending a few hundred dollars on a fan and pro install could save you thousands down the road.

That’s a low-cost, no-brainer upgrade. Even if you already have an exhaust fan, take a look at the newer ones. Today’s models are much more efficient than the old buzz saw you might currently own. They’re quieter, more powerful, and use less energy. If you forget to turn it on before you step into the shower, some models even come with a humidity-sensing feature that automatically turns the fan on when humidity is detected, then shuts off when the air is clear.

Pet Odor Can Chase Away Buyers

pet-odor-can-chase-away-buyers-standard_1x1_1166e57c266dbaa1d46fdc72efb53a9b_165x165_q85Don’t let pet odors derail your home sale.

Having pet odors inside your home can turn off potential home buyers and keep your home from selling. Ask your real estate agent for an honest opinion about whether your home has a pet smell.

If your agent holds her nose, here’s how to get rid of the smell:

Air your house out. While you’re cleaning, throw open all the windows in your home to allow fresh air to circulate and sweep out unpleasant scents.

Once your house is free of pet odors, do what you can to keep the smells from returning. Crate your dog when you’re out or keep it outdoors. Limit the cat to one floor or room, if possible. Remove or replace pet bedding.

Scrub thoroughly. Scrub bare floors and walls soiled by pets with vinegar, wood floor cleaner, or an odor-neutralizing product, which you can purchase at a pet supply store for $10 to $25.

Try a 1:9 bleach-to-water solution on surfaces it won’t damage, like cement floors or walls.

Got a stubborn pet odors covering a large area? You may have to spend several hundred dollars to hire a service that specializes in hard-to-clean stains.

Wash your drapes and upholstery. Pet odors seep into fabrics. Launder, steam clean, or dry clean all your fabric window coverings. Steam clean upholstered furniture.

Either buy a steam cleaner designed to remove pet hair for around $200 and do the job yourself, or pay a pro. You’ll spend about $40 for an upholstered chair, $100 for a sofa, and $7 for each dining room chair if a pro does your cleaning.

Clean your carpets. Shampoo your carpets and rugs, or have professionals do the job for $25 to $50 per room, depending on their size and the level of filth embedded in them. The cleaner will try to sell you deodorizing treatments. You’ll know if you need to spend the extra money on those after the carpet dries and you have a friend perform a sniff test.

If deodorizing doesn’t remove the pet odor from your home, the carpets and padding will have to go. Once you tear them out, scrub the subfloor with vinegar or an odor-removing product, and install new padding and carpeting. Unless the smell is in the subfloor, in which case that goes next.

Paint, replace, or seal walls. When heavy-duty cleaners haven’t eradicated smells in drywall, plaster, or woodwork, add a fresh coat of paint or stain, or replace the drywall or wood altogether.

On brick and cement, apply a sealant appropriate for the surface for $25 to $100. That may smother and seal in the odor, keeping it from reemerging.

Place potpourri or scented candles in strategic locations. Put a bow on your deep clean with potpourri and scented candles. Don’t go overboard and turn off buyers sensitive to perfumes. Simply place a bowl of mild potpourri in your foyer to create a warm first impression, and add other mild scents to the kitchen and bathrooms.

Control ongoing urine smells. If your dog uses indoor pee pads, put down a new pad each time the dog goes. Throw them away outside in a trash can with a tight lid. Remove even clean pads from view before each showing.

Replace kitty litter daily, rather than scooping used litter clumps, and sweep up around the litter box. Hide the litter box before each showing.

Relocate pets. If your dog or cat has a best friend it can stay with while you’re selling your home (and you can stand to be separated from your pet), consider sending your pet on a temporary vacation. If pets have to stay, remove them from the house for showings and put away their dishes, towels, and toys.

6 Materials to Never Use in Your Kitchen

kitchen-materials-standard_1x1_438d271a1b5a327068a858ea0c29d0cd_165x165_q85Here’s what to avoid, what to choose for your kitchen remodel.

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

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

Keeping those all-important features in mind, here are some materials to avoidduring your next kitchen project.

1. Plastic Laminate Counters

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

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

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

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

2. Inexpensive Sheet Vinyl Flooring

You spend all day stepping on your floor, so quality really matters. At the lower price point, about $2.50 per square foot, the cheapest sheet vinyl floorings tend to be thin. “If your vinyl floor is glued down and the underlayment gets delaminated, say, by water seeping from your dishwasher or refrigerator, you’ll get bubbles in your floor,” Holloway warns.

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

3. Some Laminated Cabinet Fronts

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

1. It’s not heat resistant. If near a dishwasher or oven, it could delaminate.

2. It can warp and yellow with age, revealing its cheapness.

3. The “wood” underneath the thermofoil is also poor quality and won’t hold up over time.

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

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

4. High-Gloss Lacquered Cabinets

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

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

5. Flat Paint

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

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

Related: Avoid a Do-Over When You Paint Your Kitchen: Pick the Right Paint

6. Trendy Backsplash Materials

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

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

In the eye of the storm: tornado hot dogs

Tornado DogsTake cover! There’s a tornado coming through the kitchen! No need to worry. This is one tornado that leaves everything in its path safe and sound. And did we mention it’s also delicious?

You will need:

  • 5 hot dogs
  • 1 sheet pizza dough
  • 10 skewers

Here’s how:

  1. Cut the hot dogs in half and spear each half onto a skewer.
  2. Now it gets a bit tricky: Place a knife at an angle and cut into the hot dog until the knife meets the skewer. Now turn the skewer, keeping the knife in place. This forms a spiral which, once complete, you pull apart carefully.
  3. Roll out the pizza dough and cut it into thin strips. Roll each strip to form ropes.
  4. Press the rope into the spiral gap of each hot dog. Press the end of the rope firmly to the skewer so that it stays in place.
  5. Now place your hot dog skewers on a pan lined with baking paper, and bake for 15 minutes at 350°F.

Ta-da! Your tornado hot dogs are finished! We have a feeling this storm might be sweeping through your kitchen more often. Enjoy!

Why Spending Money on Fancy Bath Salts Can Help Sell Your House

home-staging-tips-bath-salts-standard_1x1_5c8e50a08817ddb7b0361ce06d2b9ce0_620x620_q85You’re not just selling a home, you’re selling a lifestyle.

We get it. You’re pragmatic. You’ll buy that deep cleaning and decluttering your house are important steps in a comprehensive home staging process that could help your home receive higher offers and sell faster. But what’s up with those staging recommendations like making your bathroom feel like a spa and your kitchen smell like Rachael Ray just stopped by? Is that froufrou stuff really worth your time?

It is. Actually, the fact that you’re a pragmatist is the reason you’re going to want to shell out for some luxury staging items. The science is in: You’re not just selling your home, you’re selling a lifestyle, and those fancy final touches make a powerful sales pitch.

That’s right. Although the $11,000 you spent on a sturdy new roof might help seal the deal after the inspection, a gorgeous $30 jar of bath salts could be what prompts the offer in the first place.

The Psychology of Emotional Selling

There are plenty of rational reasons for a buyer to want to purchase your house — that new roof is just one of the many. But according to Peter Noel Murray, Ph.D., in “Psychology Today,” decision making and emotions are inescapably intertwined. So much so that people with brain damage affecting the connection between emotions and rational thought are unable to make decisions, even with a clear set of pros and cons before them.

What’s more, functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, results have confirmed the active role emotions play in consumer decisions about brands. How else can the overwhelming success of brand names over generic products be explained when generics are often the exact same thing?

People want to be associated with the brand that feels more upscale, or as Terrylynn Fisher, a REALTOR® with Dudum Real Estate in Walnut Creek, Calif., says, “Everyone aspires to have more than they have.” In a 2007 study, researchers found that people’s enjoyment of wine increased in tune with the wine’s perceived price — even when it wasn’t actually expensive.

home-staging-tips-orchid-bathroom-standard_9efaa303ca148d00529de2a974f508f5_860x575_q85Think of your home as the luxury, brand-name product, and all of the other houses on a buyer’s list as the generic version. Those homes might have a new roof as well, but when it comes to falling in love with a house, it’s that fancy label — aka, the chic bath salts or fancy wine decanter on display — that could make all the difference.

When a home appears luxurious, it promises aspirational home buyers the lifestyle they have worked so hard to earn. They deserve to live in a house with fancy wine decanters and an orchid in the bathroom. They’ve earned it.


3 Ideas That Optimize Closet Space

organize-your-closet-diy-projects-b_3x2_12c970a88cd3122be1ced47a32cb392e_540x360_q85If you’re ready to make that black hole you call a closet more efficient, these DIY closet systems will inspire.

1. A Well-Organized Utility

Many of us stash brooms, batteries, and tools separately. Not Missy of Lookie What I Did. She converted a coat closet that was a catchall for useless stuff into a central location for home maintenance items.


Optimizing Space

She went vertical by adding a rolling drawer unit, a pegboard, and storage baskets. She also kept sweepers and mops off the floor using adhesive wall hooks.

To make it a cinch to find stuff, every item in the closet has its place:

  • Heavily used items hang on the pegboard.
  • Cleaning products live together in a basket.
  • Hardware, adhesives, and batteries are stowed and labeled in the rolling drawer unit.
  • Bulky, less-frequently needed items are kept in labeled baskets on the shelf.

Tip: When deciding what to store in your closets, ask yourself what has more value, a particular item or the space you will gain.

2. A Masterful Walk-In

This closet will appeal to your inner Carrie Bradshaw. Sandra, aka Sawdust Girl, ripped out her old walk-in and created her dream closet over four months.

Optimizing Space

Sure this closet is huge, but it’s the special features that make it efficient:

  • Convenience: Connects to the bedroom, bathroom, and laundry room.
  • Quality: Oversized, self-closing drawers quietly glide shut.
  • Lighting: Colors render beautifully with daylight CFL bulbs.
  • Power: Extra outlets, extra flexibility.
  • Add-ons: A built-in ironing board, rolling ladder, and nine-by-six-foot shoe cabinet came later.

organize-your-closet-mudroom_084e25815fe0ec0acce6324303eb5f813. An Un-Muddled Mud Closet

Jaime the DIY mama behind the blog That’s My Letter came up with a cheery entryway mud room-style cubbie and bench system for a friend.

Optimizing Space

Originally, the closet had piles of stuff on the shelf and floor. To eliminate clutter, she evaluated what to keep and came up with a plan to make those items more accessible:

  • 12 solid-wood shoe cubbies wrangle Dad’s shoes, which had been spilling out of a hanging organizer.
  • The bench performs triple duty: It provides a place to sit, room for handbags and knapsacks, and a spot for more shoes.
  • Baskets on top of the cubbies stow gloves, hats, and scarves.

Tip: When it comes to keeping closet clutter at bay, out of sight means out of mind. So opt for a closet system that allows you to see everything that’s stored.