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.

Spread the Love with Bacon Jam

baconjam_headerBacon has become an incredibly popular product over the past several years. According to the National Pork Board, Americans consume almost 18 pounds of it per year. Here’s a creative way to give the gift of bacon during the holidays: with this delicious recipe for savory jam!

Makes 2 (8-oz.) jars


Ingredients:

  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 2 sweet yellow onions, sliced into thin ribbons
  • 1½ pounds bacon
  • ½ cup, plus 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

Instructions:

  1. Heat butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat; add the onions, and cook slowly for 1 hour, stirring every 10 minutes or so.
  2. Cook bacon according to package instructions, and set aside on paper towels.
  3. Once the onions are a dark golden brown, deglaze the pan with 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, scraping the pan as the vinegar dissolves.
  4. Add the remaining ½ cup of balsamic vinegar, plus the brown sugar, salt, and pepper, and stir for 5 about minutes, until a nice glaze forms.
  5. Place the glaze into a food processor along with the bacon slices, and pulse until you have the jam consistency you want.
  6. Spread the jam on toast or crackers, and enjoy! Or you can store the jam in a jar, and give it as a gift soon after making it (as it’s good for up to 7 days in the refrigerator).

baconjam_printable1-300x225After you’ve made your recipe, add more joy to your jam jar with these printable labels.

Featuring various pithy lid options, in addition to a wraparound label for the jar itself, they’re sure to be appreciated by your gift recipient!

What to Do a Year Before Buying Your First Home

20151009_175136The ultimate timeline ensures the smoothest of transitions to home ownership.

A real yard. Closets bigger than your average microwave. The freedom to decorate however you darn well please! Making the switch from renting to owning is exhilarating, but many rookie homebuyers find the process trickier to navigate than they expected.

This is why we created our First-Time HomeBuyer Checklist. The 12-month timeline will help you sidestep common mistakes, like paying too much interest or getting stuck with the wrong house. (Yep, it happens!)

12 Months Out

Check your credit score.Get a copy of your credit report at annualcreditreport.com. The three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) are each required to give you a free credit report once a year. A Federal Trade Commission study found one in four Americans identified errors on their credit report, and 5% had errors that could lead to higher rates on loans. Avoid last-minute bombshells by checking your score long before you’re ready to make an offer. And work diligently to correct any mistakes.

Determine how much you can afford. Figure out how much house you can afford and want to afford. Lenders look for a total debt load of no more than 43% of your gross monthly income (called the debt-to-income ratio). This figure includes your future mortgage and any other debts, such as a car loan, student loan, or revolving credit cards.

There are plenty of calculators on the web to help you determine what you can afford. If you’re pushing the limits, start reducing your debt-to-income ratio now. To get a reality check on what you may actually be spending every month, use this worksheet.

Make a down payment plan. Most conventional mortgages require a 20% down payment. If you can swing it, do it. Your loan costs will be much less, and you’ll get a better interest rate. If, however, you’re not quite able to save the full amount, there are many programs that can help. FHA offers loans with only a 3.5% down payment. But they require mortgage insurance premiums, which will drive up your monthly payments. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides a list of nonprofit homebuying programs by state. Also check with credit unions; and your employer might even have an assistance program.

As you’re planning your savings strategy, keep in mind that banks like you to “season” your money. That is, they like to see that you’ve had stable funds in your account for 60 to 90 days before applying for a loan. Don’t worry: You can still use a financial gift from a family member or bonus received near the time you buy.

9 Months Out

Prioritize what you most want in your new home. What’s most important in your new home? Proximity to work? A big backyard? An open floor plan? Being on a quiet street? You’ll make a much better decision on what home to buy if you focus on your priorities. If it’s a joint decision, now is the time to work out any differences to avoid frustration and wasted time. Perhaps most important: Know what trade-offs you’re willing to make.

Research neighborhoods and start visiting open houses. But now’s when the fun begins, too. Use property listing sites, such as RE/MAX, to find out about neighborhoods, public transport, and cost of living.

Start visiting open houses to get an idea of what kind of homes are in your price range and what neighborhoods appeal the most. Seeing potential homes will also keep you motivated to continue reducing your debts and saving for your down payment.

Budget for miscellaneous homebuying expenses. Buying a home has some miscellaneous upfront costs. A home inspection, title search, propery survey, and home insurance are examples. Costs vary by locale, but expect to pay at least a few hundred dollars. If you don’t have the cash, start saving now.

Start a home maintenance account. Speaking of saving, start the good habit now of putting a little aside each month to fund maintenance, repairs, and home emergencies. It’s bad enough to have to call a plumber. It’s worse if you’re paying credit card interest on that plumbing bill.

6 Months Out

Collect your loan paperwork. Banks are very particular when it comes to mortgage loans. They demand a lot of paperwork. What they’ll want from you includes:

  • W-2 forms — or business tax return forms if you’re self-employed — for the last two to three years
  • Personal tax returns for the past two to three years
  • Your most recent pay stubs
  • Credit card and all loan statements
  • Your bank statements
  • Addresses for the past five to seven years
  • Brokerage account statements for the most recent two to four months
  • Most recent retirement account statements, such as 401(k)

If you start collecting these documents now, it’ll lessen the stress when it’s time to get your loan. Bonus: Looking closely at your loan documents each month will also help you stay focused on saving for your down payment and keeping your debt-to-income ratio low.

Research lenders and REALTORS®. Start interviewing REALTORS®, specifically buyers’ agents. A buyer’s agent will work in your best interest to find you the right property, negotiate with the seller’s agent, and shepherd you through the closing process. Your agent also can be instrumental in finding a lender who’s familiar with first-time home buyer programs.

Even better, look for a mortgage broker, who will shop for a competitive loan rate for you among multiple lenders, unlike a bank, which can only offer its own products.

3 Months Out

thGet pre-approved for your loan. At this point, if you’ve been following this timeline, your credit score, paperwork, and down payment should be on track. You’ve done your research on lenders and buyers’ agents. Now it’s time to start working with them. First you’ll need to get pre-approved for a mortgage.

Make an appointment with your lender or mortgage broker and bring all your paperwork. He’ll run a credit check on you and tell you how much of a loan you’re approved for. It often makes sense to borrow less than the maximum the lender allows so you can live comfortably. Draft a budget that accounts for mortgage payments, insurance, maintenance, and everything else you have going on in your life.

Start shopping for your new home. One you’re pre-approved, the buyer’s agent you’ve chosen will be able to target homes that meet your priorities in your price range. This way you won’t be wasting time looking at homes you can’t afford.

2 Months Out

Make an offer on a home.It usually takes at least four to six weeks to close on a home. So if you have a firm move-out date, allow enough time to deal with any hiccups that can delay closing.

Get a home inspection. One of the first things you’ll want to do after an offer is accepted is have a home inspector look at the property. If the home inspector finds something that needs repair, that’s a common example of something that can delay closing.

In the Last Month

Triple-check that all your financial documents are in order and review all lending documents before closing. You’re in the home stretch! If you’ve been keeping your documents up to date, and your down payment is in reserve, these final steps are the easiest. Reviewing the mortgage documents is probably the most difficult. Your agent can help guide you through them.

Get insurance for your new home. Don’t forget to secure insurance before closing. You’ll need to bring proof of insurance to closing.

Do a final walk-through. Do a final walk-through of your new home, usually a day or two before closing, to make sure the home is in the shape you and the seller have agreed upon.

Get a cashier’s check or bank wire for cash needed at closing. Make sure you get an exact amount of cash needed for closing. You’ll get that number a few days before closing so you can secure a cashier’s check or arrange to have the money wired. Regular checks aren’t accepted.

That’s it. Congratulations! Ready to get started? Click here.

Kitchen Color Schemes: Avoiding Kitschy Colors

best-kitchen-paint-colors-green-standard_3x2_a6c8bedcb6d3aa70bb80bf18c807a832_540x360_q85Tempted to spread your favorite hue across your kitchen? You might want to think twice.

The kitchen is the heart of the household, a place where you prepare meals and make memories. So it only makes sense that your kitchen’s color scheme reflects your unique tastes and personality, right?

The answer to that is yes — and no.

Although there may be a special hue that gets your heart thumping, there are many reasons why it makes sense to opt for a neutral palette in your kitchen. Many design professionals agree that using shades like white, beige, or gray as the foundation for your kitchen not only open up a spectrum of colorful possibilities, but enhance the value of your home.

The Never-Regret Factor

“Timeless colors are perfect, whether for resale or for your dream home,” says Jackie Jordan, Dallas-based director of color marketing for Sherwin-Williams. “Your kitchen won’t suffer from this-looks-like-it-was-done-in-the-90s comments if you opt for a neutral palette.”

“It’s a space where potential buyers envision themselves spending a lot of time,” agrees Sue Pelley, spokesperson for Decorating Den Interiors in Easton, Md. Thus, although you may believe your purple cabinets are divine, others may think they’re dreadful. And that, she says, can be a real barrier to a sale.

The Versatility of Neutrals

best-kitchen-paint-colors-grey-yellow-chairs-standard_18f238692c7abc36c62a2510a5719b17_860x573_q85But does going soft and natural mean you have to stifle your inner Van Gogh? Not a chance.

“A neutral kitchen is the perfect canvas to personalize as your tastes change,” says Jordan. “It gives you the opportunity to accessorize with fun rugs, dinnerware — even just a fresh vase of flowers to liven things up.”

“I love being able to change moods with colors, often inspired by the changing seasons,” says Wendy F. Johnson, a certified kitchen and bath designer based in Manchester Village, Vt. “Neutrals can provide the base for a huge range of related or contrasting colors to be used with them, from bright and saturated to peaceful, muted hues.”

Texture also adds enormous impact to a neutral kitchen. A combination of materials from rough to smooth and matte to high gloss creates visual contrast and reflects light differently throughout the day, says Johnson. “For example, you can mix barn wood walls and satin painted drywall, white oak cabinetry with glass insets, lustrous concrete countertops with a stone tile backsplash. These might all be in the same tones, but there is nothing boring here.”

Using Color to Complement Your Kitchen’s Size

best-kitchen-paint-colors-galley-kitchen-standard_935cb75ba5de35cc9c150b870626a7f2_860x593_q85Your kitchen’s square footage is another important factor to consider when choosing a color palette. If the space is small, opt for paler hues for cabinets, walls, and countertops. Shades of white, bone, or cream reflect light and help a tiny kitchen feel brighter and more spacious.

Neutrals are also a great choice for kitchens that open up to other rooms, notes Pelley. “If your kitchen is part of a great room design, remember that any new paint will need to work with the color schemes in those rooms, too.”

Non-Permanent Ways to Add Pops of Color

best-kitchen-paint-colors-roman-shade-standard_3d062189c7d99b84036f06e484598ad7_860x546_q85Rather than committing to a single color scheme, a neutral kitchen lets you sample the rainbow. One option is to choose coordinating window treatments and chair cushions to liven up the space, says Johnson. An eye-catching poster, multihued area rug, or a collection of pottery displayed on a shelf all add personality to your kitchen and are easy to change when you’re ready for something new.

Paint is another low-cost way to incorporate a pop or two of color into a neutral room. You can grab a brush and paint your kitchen chairs or counter stools, or add a bright hue to the interior of a glass cabinet. Ready for something bigger? Consider rolling a bold shade on a single wall to create lively contrast in an otherwise single-color space.

Top Neutral Color Schemes

Neutrals may be timeless, but there are some combinations that look especially fresh. “I love warm grays and whites — always have,” says Johnson. “There are so many natural materials available in these tones that mix together beautifully, and all colors look gorgeous against this type of palette.”

Sherwin-Williams’ Jordan also favors white and light grays in a kitchen. “It’s a sleek and modern combination that works perfectly with the ever-popular stainless steel appliances and subway tile.”

When it comes to a big-ticket item like a kitchen, it makes sense to choose a palette that will endure for the long term, says Johnson. “Those of us who thrive in colorful surroundings will groan at this, but even we need some soft, peaceful environments sometimes.”

Mac & Cheese Bites with Feta and Kale

choosingsides_macbitesTake mac and cheese to the next level with these mac and cheese bites with feta and kale. Adding the flair of feta and kale makes this dish a healthier option. They are not only filled with flavor, but great for any party you host!


Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon white flour
  • 1 cup skim milk
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 3 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg white
  • 4 cups vegetable or whole wheat macaroni, cooked
  • 10 ounces kale, chopped
  • 8 ounces crumbled feta cheese
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. In a saucepan over medium-low heat, melt butter, and whisk in flour until it is fully incorporated. Stir in the garlic and milk, and raise the temperature to bring the mixture to just under a boil. Whisk in mozzarella to make a cheese sauce, and stir until cheese melts. Remove from heat, and stir in the eggs.
  3. In a large bowl, combine pasta and kale with the cheese sauce, and mix well. Salt and pepper to taste, and gently fold in feta cheese crumbles.
  4. Lightly mist muffin tins with cooking spray, and spoon the mac and cheese mixture to evenly into the tins. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until the tops begin to brown.
  5. Remove from the oven, and allow the macaroni cups to cool for at least 5 minutes before removing from the tin. Serve warm.

– See more at: http://americanlifestylemag.com/mac-cheese-bites-with-feta-and-kale/#sthash.eKvPjw3a.dpuf

Tax Credits for Installing Biomass Stoves

biomass-cast-iron-wood-stove_1x1_165x165_q85If you warmed your chestnuts cost-effectively by installing a biomass stove recently, you may be eligible for a tax credit.

Did you install an efficient biomass stove recently? If so, you may be eligible for a $300 energy tax credit.

  • The credit is limited to 10% of expenditures, up to a lifetime amount of $500, for all energy improvements combined, although the stoves themselves have a $300 limit.
  • File IRS Form 5695.
  • Save receipts and labels.
  • Installation costs are covered.

Here’s What You Need To Know:

The Energy Star site has guidelines on what exactly is covered. It’s your safest bet for information on how to get the credit. Don’t rely solely on contractors who may not know the details or who promise their products will get the credit in order to make a sale.

Who doesn’t want to curl up in front of a cozy fire? Unfortunately, while flickering flames are inviting, most of the heat generated by a traditional fireplace escapes up the chimney rather than warming the house. Not only are you wasting money on firewood, but you also aren’t saving a dime on heating bills.

So-called biomass stoves, either freestanding models or inserts that fit inside a traditional fireplace, offer an energy-efficient solution. Most of these stoves burn wood or small wood pellets made of compressed sawdust. Some can use other sustainable energy sources like corn or grass for fuel.

The stoves burn cleaner and more efficiently than fireplaces, not to mention the wood-burning stoves of yesteryear, and are designed to radiate heat into a room.

Keep in mind that a stove usually heats only the portion of the house where it’s located, not the entire house.

A typical biomass stove costs between $3,000 and $4,500, including installation. In fact, installation is a critical part of the biomass stove. They must be:

  • Sized for a room
  • Vented to the outside
  • Installed on proper surfaces at a safe distance from walls.

Incorrect installation may lower energy efficiency. Look for an installer who’s certified by the National Fireplace Institute.

Besides the stove, you’ll need a steady supply of fuel. Costs vary widely depending on time of year, availability, and the region where you live.

Let’s say wood pellets are selling for $5 per 40-pound bag, and you use half a bag a day for six months. That adds up to $450, plus you need a dry place to store nearly two tons of pellets.

Budget three hours a week during heating season for fueling the stove and removing ash. (Seasoned wood and premium wood pellets leave less ash than low-grade fuels.)

In general, a wood or wood pellet stove can cut heating costs by 10% to 40% when combined with zone heating techniques, according to Leslie Wheeler of the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association. That’s a savings of $64 to $255 a year for the average home owner. Though fuel prices can fluctuate wildly, savings could be even greater if you rely on pricier electricity or fuel oil for heating, rather than natural gas or propane.

EPA regulations for biomass stoves changed in 1991, requiring them to be more efficient and to produce less smoke, about 60% to 80% less than older stoves or traditional fireplaces. Thermal efficiency for tax credit-qualified stoves must be rated at least 75%, meaning three-quarters or more of the fuel is turned into heat.

Although wood and wood pellet stoves are most common, biomass fuels can come in a number of renewable forms such as corn or even aquatic plants. Stoves capable of burning a variety of fuel types are more expensive.

In addition to lowering heating bills, biomass stoves reduce emissions as well as dependency on non-renewable fuels like heating oil, kerosene, and natural gas. But before you commit to one of these stoves, inquire about local laws governing wood burning. Some areas, particularly in California, limit when you can burn wood due to pollution concerns.

This article provides general information about tax laws and consequences, but shouldn’t be relied upon as tax or legal advice applicable to your particular transaction or circumstance. Consult a tax professional for such advice.

How to Make Lovely Lemon Candles

citruscandle_headerAdd a little end of summer flair to your home with handmade citrus candles made from hollowed-out lemons. These candles are really adorable, and the lemon scent from the rind will fill your home with a sublime freshness.


Materials:

  • Lemons
  • Cutting board
  • Knife
  • Spoon
  • Paper towel
  • Scissors
  • Wick
  • Metal wick holders (or aluminum foil)
  • Wax flakes (soy or paraffin preferred)

Instructions:

  1. Slice lemons in half lengthwise, and use a spoon to scrape out all insides of the lemons, leaving only the peels. Pat dry with a paper towel.
  2. Cut your wicks slightly longer than you will need, about 3 to 4 inches long. Insert the wicks into the metal wick holders. If you do not have those, you can fold aluminum foil into small, thick squares, and poke a hole through the squares. Tie off or fold over the end of the wick once inserted into the holder. Place wick standing upright in each of the lemon rinds.
  3. Heat wax flakes as directed on package (directions will vary depending on type of wax). Using a double broiler will yield the best results, but if you do not have one, you can insert a bowl on top of a pot with boiling water in it. Once wax is melted, carefully pour into the prepared lemons. (TIP: Spoon a small amount of wax into the lemons first, and then place wicks and holders on top of the wax to glue them into place. Once that sets, pour the rest of the wax to fill each lemon.)
  4. Leave on the counter to cool until wax has completely hardened. Trim excess wicks before lighting.

 

They’ll Think You Cheated and Hired a Pro If You Use These 5 Painting Hacks

painting-tips-tricks-standard_1x1_4dd353ea840ede7e884f8f7ba8bab48b_440x440_q85DIY home painting tips give you professional results and a whole lot less hassle.

A DIY painting job doesn’t have to equal crooked lines, besmirched floors, and ceramic sinks speckled with robin’s egg blue.

Use these simple painting tips and tricks from the pros to make the process faster and less messy — and ensure a gorgeous end result.

1. Soak Brushes in Fabric Softener to Keep Bristles Soft

Every DIY painter has been privy to the horrors of a day-old brush with stiff bristles that makes round two nearly impossible. To prevent your brushes from becoming hard and unusable, make sure to rinse thoroughly (no soap), and swish them in a mixture of fabric softener and warm water (half a cup of softener to a gallon of warm water) for 10 seconds or so.

Then lay them flat or hang them on a peg for overnight storage.

“That way, the bristles won’t develop a bend and will retain their usefulness for your next painting adventure,” says Artem Filikov, vice president of marketing and product development for home improvement website HomeYou. Also, there’s no need to rinse before using. The softener actually helps distribute paint more smoothly.

2. Use Plastic Wrap to Prevent Mishaps

When painting around a large, awkward item you want to keep clean, like a toilet or a standalone sink, surround it with plastic wrap to keep drips from destroying its finish.

For an extra tight wrap, choose a wrap with an adhesive backing — your hardware store will even carry special painter’s plastic wrap, if you really want to go all out — which will help it stick to the surface and prevent the odd drop from inching its way in. Once you’ve finished the job, just unwrap for a paint-free finish.

3. Look in Your Pantry to Reduce Paint Odor

Paint’s intense odor can get really old really fast. Overpower it with a little bit of vanilla. Although there are vanilla-scented products specifically designed to use with paint, you can get the same effect with what’s in your kitchen cabinet.

For darker paints, add a couple drops of vanilla extract (artificial is fine) per gallon to reduce the nasty smell and keep your room smelling sweet for weeks to come. Because you don’t want the tint of vanilla to ruin the color of your paint, swap it with lemon extract for light-colored paints.

4. Repurpose Old T-Shirts as Rags to Reduce Waste

Painting’s a messy job, but using roll after roll of paper towels is neither efficient nor environmentally-friendly. And while you could pick up a mega-pack of plain cotton towels to keep paint from splattering, why not use something you can find stuffed at the back of a drawer? Geoff Sharp, the owner of Sharper Impressions Painting Co., recommends cutting up old T-shirts to use as rags, saving money and resources (not to mention a trip to Goodwill).

“If paint runs down your roller or brush, it gets really messy, really quick,” he says. “Always have a rag in your pocket so you and your brush or roller stay clean.”

5. Keep Q-tips Handy for Emergencies

Oh no! A drop of Naples Sunset just splashed on your white window frame. You’ve only got a few minutes to clean up the mess before your mistake is sealed for eternity. That’s where Q-tips come in handy. Just stash some in your pocket for these types of emergencies.

Here’s another use for that pile of cotton swabs tucked in your jeans pocket: Use them to touch up imperfections on newly-painted walls without dirtying an entire paintbrush.

6. Apply Petroleum Jelly to Places You Don’t Want Painted

A little bit of Vaseline can go a long way toward keeping your paint job clean. Using a Q-tip (another reason to keep them handy), go over all the bits and pieces you don’t want painted, like screws or hinges. With the petroleum jelly applied, even an accidental slip won’t leave you heartbroken.

Here’s another tip for a hassle-free paint job: “Run petroleum jelly along the seals of your doors and windows to prevent them from sticking,” Sharp says.

7. Blow Dry Painter’s Tape for Easy Removal

Painter’s tape is supposed to make your paint job easier and stress-free. But when strips of perfect paint peel off along with the adhesive — or you just can’t get the darn tape to come off at all — you might feel like you wasted your effort.

To help stubborn painter’s tape get a move on, turn a hair dryer (low heat only) toward your handiwork. Holding it about three inches from the wall will help soften the adhesive and ensure an even line, making removal a stress-free affair — and ensuring you keep that dreamy, crisp paint line.

A Delightful Side Dish for Autumn Dining

butternutsquashheaderOne of the standout features that makes fall special is the colors: reds, oranges, and yellows pop in nature and in many decorations during the season. Now you can bring a burst of autumn to the dinner table with this butternut squash recipe—made with cranberries and honey, it’s a delightful dish that tastes as good as it looks!

Serves: 6-8


Ingredients:

  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large butternut squash, peeled and chopped into cubes
  • Salt, pepper, and garlic powder, to taste
  • 2 cups fresh cranberries
  • 2-3 tablespoons honey
  • ¼ cup finely crumbled feta
  • Ground cinnamon, to taste
  • Fresh parsley, for garnish

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Lightly spritz a baking sheet with olive oil, add the butternut squash along with another drizzle of olive oil, and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.
  2. Place in the oven on the center rack, and roast for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven, add the cranberries, and mix to combine.
  3. Return to the oven for 10-15 minutes, or until the cranberries have started to soften and burst a bit.
  4. Remove from oven, and transfer the squash mixture to a large bowl. Add the honey and feta, plus a touch of cinnamon, based on taste, and mix well. Transfer to a serving platter, and garnish with the parsley.

 

Don’t Forget These 4 Key Factors for Your Next Home Location

readytosellHome location plays a major role in your life. Property taxes, school districts, and the cost of living are standard details that go into choosing the best-fit location . . . but what other factors could you be forgetting? Here are 4 home location components that deserve a spot on your house-hunting priorities list.


  1. Daily commutes and ease of getting around
    A daily commute can directly impact your quality of life. It tends to dictate what time you wake up, how much free time you have after work, and your daily stress levels. Do some dry runs to see what your new commute would be like during your travel times. And if you don’t have the ability to physically check out the commute, most online map programs or mobile apps will show you traffic volumes and estimated travel times in real time so you can estimate your morning and evening drive times.
  2. Walkability and public transportation options
    The freedom of around-the-corner shopping, walking to work, and using public transit can be desirable for some, but uncomfortable or limiting to others. Consider everything from your travel preferences to your shopping habits. Do you tend to pick up your groceries fresh as you need them, or are you a buy-in-bulk kind of family? Looking at how you shop now will make you more aware of the options to look for in your new locale.
  3. Square footage, lot size, and privacy
    How much house you can afford is going to change based on location. A willingness to live in a distant suburb most often translates into more square footage on a larger lot. Most people are going to know what they want in lot size, but when house hunting, it’s all about priorities. Make a list of your must-haves (have your partner make one, too), and you may be surprised at what you’re unwilling to sacrifice in exchange for that extra half-bathroom.
  4. Social life and cultural amenities
    A major draw to city life is an abundance of activities. However, some suburbs boast city-like activities on a smaller scale, or you might find that the occasional city trip is enough. Think about how you spend your weekends now, where and how often you eat out, and where your social circle is. Even if you’re moving to a different side of the country, you’re likely to carry those same habits and preferences with you.

11 Hacks for Annoying Household Headaches

household-hacks-standard_1x1_94388c14e049044ed438147189891150_620x620_q85Cruddy bathroom fixtures? Sticky door locks? Fix those maddening nuisances fast.

A slow-draining guest bathtub, a squeaky linen closet door: Fixing routine household issues is très boring when you’ve got sexier projects on your mind, like building a kitchen that would make Ina Garten jealous.

Over time, though, those everyday annoyances will get. on. your. nerves. That’s why we rounded up 11 clever fixes for the tasks that float to the bottom of most homeowners’ to-do lists. You can knock them out in a single weekend and still have plenty of time to get back to looking up remodeling ideas on Pinterest when you’re done.

1. Remove Shower Drain Gunk with a Zip Tie

Retrieve a wig’s worth of hair by connecting three or four zip ties and notching them every half inch with a pair of scissors. Remove the drain catch and feed the chain into the drain. Swivel it around to catch as much clog-causing hair as possible, pull out, remove gunk, and repeat as necessary. Rinse off the makeshift chain and stash it for your next clog. In the meantime, use a drain plug to catch some of the hair.

2. Un-Stick Door Locks

Artfully wiggling your garage key works for getting to your lawnmower, but it won’t do in case of an emergency. Save yourself a trip to the home center for powdered graphite lubricant and DIY your own to oil up tumbler locks.

Twist a mechanical pencil or whittle away a traditional pencil’s wood to expose a few inches of graphite. Slip the exposed graphite into the sticky lock. You can force it if needed, as it will become powder anyway. Slide the key in and out to break up the graphite and turn it in the lock cylinder to lube it for loose unlocking.

3. Refinish Cruddy Bathroom Fixtures with Spray Paint

No matter how much you scrub, those polished metal fixtures that were supposed to look shiny and clean all the time just don’t. Most of the time, they just look gross. That’s why interior designer Lara Fishman of Storm Interiors in Los Angeles warns clients that polished metal can be tough to maintain. They’re magnets for dirt and fingerprints.

But if they work fine, replacing them is a waste of landfill space. So create your own do-over and spray paint them with a coat of matte, metallic paint. It’s easier than you think. Simply remove them from your bathroom sink, spread them out on a protected surface, and give them a sharp new coat of primer and the color of your choice.

4. Stop a Spewing Shower Head with White Vinegar

Your hair looking a little flat after a shower? Not able to rinse out all that deep conditioner? Could be the spray isn’t forceful or targeted enough because of sediment build-up in your showerhead. Fill a medium-sized freezer bag halfway with white vinegar and submerge your shower head in it. Wrap a thick rubber band around the bag to secure it to the shower head and leave it overnight. In the morning, remove the bag and let the shower run at least two minutes before showering (so you won’t smell like vinegar).

5. Silence Noisy Hinges with Olive Oil

Or grease. Seriously. Skip the commercial lubricants, which, according to internet lore, may or may not be the cause of your door’s horror movie sound effects. The point is, your hinges need lubricating. And the oils in your kitchen will do the job just as well, and probably better. Olive oil, veg oil, coconut oil, etc. Just be careful to clean first, and don’t overdo it. Leaving excess oil on a dirty surface can make the oil turn rancid.

6. Smooth Out Beaten-Up Wood Trim with Nail Polish

A nick on a gorgeous, shellac-ed windowsill that’s original to your 1955 bungalow may go unnoticed for now, but it’ll grow worse over time. Grab a bottle of clear nail polish topcoat and fill in the wood craters for an even surface. Let it dry completely and gently even out any resulting bumps with fine sandpaper.

7. Clean Gutters Without a Ladder

Clearing out the gutters gets a (deserved) bad rap for being a total pain. Cindy Stumpo, founder of C. Stumpo Development Inc. and an expert featured on HGTV’s “Tough as Nails,” has hacked the annoying task. She attaches a long PVC pipe to a leaf blower to avoid hauling out the ladder. Genius!

8. Fix a Vinyl or Linoleum Floor Tear with a Hair Dryer

The oddly placed floor mat hasn’t fooled anyone since you accidentally tore up a spot or two on your linoleum floor when you dragged in that (fabulous!) flea-market hutch find. Don’t fret, just pull out your hair dryer. Use the warm air to stretch out the material and reattach it to the subfloor as the glue melts. (Don’t worry. The material is malleable enough to stretch without causing burns to the skin.)

9. Silence Squeaky Floorboards with Talcum Powder

The spot in the hallway you’ve trained yourself to avoid is actually a super simple low-maintenance fix. Sprinkle talcum powder over the trouble boards, then sweep the powder into the cracks between the boards with a makeup brush. Because it’s actually moisture that causes the creaks (who knew?), and the powder will soak it right up.

10. Stretch Out Light Bulb Switches with LEDs

You’d rather endure a dark driveway for weeks than go through the hassle of dragging out a ladder to reach the security light. Sean Dore, owner of Mr. Electric of Baton Rouge, La., says invest in LEDs already. You’ll get bright light and not have to change them for years and years!

11. Stash Paint Samples for Quick Touch-Ups

Those wall scuffs from the backs of your chairs, furniture rearrangements, and trying to cram a dining room table through a doorway without taking it apart first give your walls a sad, dingy look. Forgo the drop cloth and white overalls for big paint jobs by stealing this trick from Monica Mangin, DIY expert and host of the new Lowe’s original series “The Weekender”: Keep small containers of your paint colors and a small brush handy. Covering up knicks and dings will take five minutes flat!

How to Stop Your Dog From Digging In Your Yard

how-to-stop-your-dog-from-digging_1x1_68ef255383baa399dbda12a6d07efc82_165x165_q85Don’t let your dog wreck your yard by digging up your lawn. Here are 5 foolproof ways to stop doggie destruction.

We love our dogs, but our yards don’t. Dogs dig up the lawn in a heartbeat, eager to bury a bone or chase a gopher, leaving gaping holes and piles of dirt.

Here’s how to keep your dog from digging up your yard. (If it’s your garden instead, here are tips on how to keep dogs out of your garden.)

1. Tire out your dog

A napping dog is not a digging dog, so exhaust your pet with regular walks and active play.

“Home owners with big yards think they can just open the back door and their dogs will be entertained,” says Tim Link, a dog expert and author of Wagging Tales.

“That’s boring for an animal,” says Link. “You have to mix it up. If a dog is stimulated, he’ll get into a lot less mischief.”

To activate your animal, try:

  • Hiding a favorite indoor toy outdoors so he can hunt for it.
  • Playing catch with a ball or Frisbee.
  • Taking her on frequent walks.
  • Setting up an agility course.

2. Offer a digging spot of his own

Dogs dig for thrills, for a cool place to lie down, and for a place to bury bones. It’s an instinctive behavior you can’t eliminate, but you can redirect it by building your pet a digging box.

It doesn’t have to be big – a shaded, 4-by-4-foot space will do. Fill it with sand, cat box filler, or wood chips. Then let your dog watch you bury a toy or treat in the box. When he goes after it, praise his efforts — dogs would rather be rewarded for digging in their box than scolded for digging in your garden.

3. Nix the bones

Instead of offering your dog a bone that he’ll want to hide in a hole, give your pet rawhide or veggie-based chews that he’ll eat rather than bury.

Also, buy your puppy a busy ball ($10-$15) that dispenses treats as he bats it around. It’s a challenge and exercise, which will keep your dog’s body and mind active.

4. Get rid of unwanted pests

Dogs often dig around fences and shrubs to hunt prey — such as rats, gophers, and moles. Beat him to the job by humanely getting rid of rodents. Don’t use poison to kill the critters, because it could kill your pet, too.

5. Keep your dog company

If you know your dog likes to dig or eat outdoors, don’t leave him unattended. Let him watch you plant your garden and explain what you’re doing and the behavior you expect.

Yep, your read that right.

Link says dogs understand and respond to human conversation, so long as it contains high praise and clear directions, and is followed by a reward for good behavior.

You might say, “Sebastian, you’re the best dog in the world, and I know you love to dig. But I don’t want you digging up the lawn and ruining our beautiful yard. Now, let’s get a treat.”

Fix Noisy, Rattling, Energy-Sucking Windows for Good

how-fix-drafty-windows-standard_1x1_4fc9e8ce8dfe95e76e914a62c16dcfac_620x620_q85Quick, affordable ways to address those annoying windows now — plus some ideas for the long term.

Do your friends nominate your house for the Halloween bash every year because your rattling windows with their billowing curtains add that just-right eerie feel they want for their creepy celebration?

Maybe that’s fine for fall, but when winter temps set in, those rattling, drafty windows will bug you to no end, as well as hike your heating bill beyond your comfort zone. Best to get rid of that headache now.

So, Why Do They Get Drafty?

With old windows, the glazing putty may have grown brittle and fallen away, leaving the glass rattling in place. Double-hung sashes of wood windows can shrink with age and wear, letting in cold air. Even newer vinyl or aluminum windows may have worn-out gaskets and weather stripping.

Easy Fixes for Right Now

shrink-filmHere are five fast solutions (all under $8!) that’ll fix them for awhile, or at least to get you through to spring when more permanent fixes are easier:

1. V-seal weather stripping. Add this plastic weather stripping along the sides of the sashes. Windows can open and shut even with the V-seal in place.

2. Rope caulk. This soft, sticky stuff can be molded to suit the gap — and removes easily at the end of the season.

3. Shrink film. Applied with double-sided tape, this clear plastic sheeting shrinks drum-tight when heated with a hair dryer. The film seals off drafts and captures an insulating buffer of air. Use rubbing alcohol to help release the tape in the spring to avoid pulling off paint. (My husband is an expert at this)

4. Nail polish. If carefully applied, clear polish fills the crack almost invisibly. Once hardened, the polish will stabilize the glass until you can replace it in the spring. Or, apply clear weather-seal tape to the crack.

5. Draft snake. If the bottom of your window leaks cold air, buy a foam-and-fabric draft snake kit. Cut the 36-inch foam tube provided to length and slip the washable cover over it. Then place the snake on the sill and shut the window on it to seal the deal.

3 Fixes for the Long Term

1. Replace loose or missing glazing. The glazing putty that seals window panes can crack and fall out with time. Doing a great job of glazing takes practice, but even a mediocre job will do a lot to eliminate leaks. Best part is it only costs a few bucks. Some quick tips:

  • Begin by removing all the old putty.
  • Detach the pane and add a bed of fresh putty.
  • Gently press the glass into the putty and add glazing points — small metal points that push into the sash to secure the pane.
  • Push points into place with a flat-bladed screwdriver.
  • Apply a long thin roll of putty and use a clean putty knife to smooth it in place.

2. Rejuvenate storm windows. If you have old storm windows stacked in the garage rafters, reglaze and repaint them, and put them up every fall. Storm windows not only cut drafts, they insulate. Cost: Once they’re fixed up, it only costs an afternoon of washing and installing the storms.

3. Replace the window. A worn, rotted, or chronically rattling window is simply past its useful life. Replacing old windows is a job for a pro. You’ll be able to take your pick of low-maintenance frame materials, as well as low-E and insulated glass options. Cost:About $600 per window.

Try This Delicious Duo of Trail Mix Treats

Oftentimes, snacks are oh-so-tasty but not-so-good for you. One exception, which has become more popular in recent years with the trend of health-conscious food, is trail mix. Hikers and other outdoorsy people love it because it provides a healthy source of energy. But it’s also quite delicious and provides a seemingly endless variety of ingredients, including nuts, seeds, fruits, and granola.

Perhaps best of all, making your own trail mix is easy! Whether you enjoy sweet or salty sensations, the recipes below will excite your taste buds—and provide your body a healthier snack to keep you satisfied.

trailmix_savory-300x225

Savory Nut-Free Trail Mix

Ingredients: 

  • ¾ cup sunflower seeds
  • ¾ cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1½ cups plantain chips
  • ¾ cup baked chickpeas
  • 2⅓ tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne powder
  • ½ teaspoon chili powder
  • ¾ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt

Instructions: 

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Combine the sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, plantain chips, and baked chickpeas in a bowl. Evenly mix olive oil through the ingredients. Add the cayenne powder, chili powder, garlic powder, and sea salt; coat evenly.
  3. Spread the mixture onto a baking sheet, and bake for 12-16 minutes, or until golden brown, stirring halfway through. Remove from heat, and let the trail mix cool for 20 minutes before serving.

trailmix_sweet-300x225

Sweet n’ Salty Chocolate Drops

Ingredients:

  • 1½ tablespoons almonds
  • ¾ tablespoon sunflower seeds
  • 3 tablespoons dried cranberries
  • 12 ounces dark chocolate chips

Instructions:

  1. Combine the almonds, sunflower seeds, and dried cranberries in a bowl to make the trail mix.
  2. In a separate bowl, melt the dark chocolate chips in the microwave for 20-30 seconds, and stir occasionally. Add time if needed.
  3. Lay out a piece of wax paper and, using a spoon, pour the chocolate in quarter-size circles onto the paper.
  4. Pressing lightly, lay the trail mix onto each of the chocolate drops.
  5. Allow each of the drops to harden, about 45-60 minutes. For quicker results, you can put the drops in the refrigerator.

– See more at: http://americanlifestylemag.com/try-this-delicious-duo-of-trail-mix-treats/#sthash.gBkDugKg.dpuf

Should You Look for Your First House — Or Renew Your Lease?

buying-your-first-home-standard1_3x2_5fe13140669c7ebee84ce49d0a9f28a2_540x360_q85Consider 5 key questions in your quest to decide whether you’re ready to go for it.

Tired of working so hard just to build your landlord’s equity instead of your own? Been dreaming about paint swatches and obsessing over Pinterest projects? Making that leap from renting to owning a home comes with many perks — both financial and emotional. And even though home ownership comes with great responsibility, you might be surprised how achievable it can be.

Certainly, the best time to trade security deposits for a down payment is different for everyone. If you’re thinking about switching from renting to owning, ask yourself these five questions to decide if you’re ready to embark on the home ownership adventure.

Money and House1. Are You Financially Prepared?

Let’s not beat around the bush: Buying a home requires a substantial financial commitment.

There’s the down payment, of course. “On average, you want to have a minimum of 5% to 7% of the cost of the home you’re targeting,” says Jason Harriman, a REALTOR® with San Antonio-based Heyl Real Estate Group at Keller Williams Realty. Then, add 3% to 6% more for closing costs, which will vary based on where you live and what taxes your state and city require you to pay.

Tip: Keep in mind if you put down less than 20%, you’ll pay PMI, private mortgage insurance, which protects the lender in case of default. Usually, it’s about $50 to $200 a month. But once you reach a certain threshold on your loan to value ratio, you can cancel PMI.

A healthy credit history is also important. Most borrowers will start to qualify for a mortgage with a minimum score of 620 — but the most competitive interest rates will be offered to those with a score of 700 or above. So if you haven’t started practicing those good credit habits yet, it’s time to start developing them.

One of the trickiest hurdles for young adults, so many of whom are lugging around student loan debt, is the debt-to-income (DTI) ratio. Mortgage companies want borrowers to have a certain level of cash flow each month, and that means taking into account how much you’re paying out to other lenders. Ideally, a borrower’s debt-to-income ratio — how much you pay toward debt each month divided by your gross monthly income — should fall below 36%. (Strictly speaking, a loan is considered able to be paid if the DTI doesn’t exceed 43%.) If yours doesn’t, think about how you can get that debt needle moving in the right direction.

“The best way to do this is to pay off any unsecured debts like credit cards and personal loans, and keep them as close to a zero balance as you can,” says Harriman.

2. Are You Prepared to Make Compromises?

Kathleen Celmins, who manages the personal finance site “Stacking Benjamins,” was financially prepared to manage a mortgage. But once the house hunting began, she quickly realized she was priced out of the homes she had envisioned for herself.

“I originally wanted a single-family home with a yard and in a great neighborhood,” she says. But given her price point, the homes she could afford ended up being in, well, not the greatest neighborhoods. “At one point, we looked at a property that was directly behind a strip club,” she laughs. “We didn’t even go inside.”

After several weeks of searching, Celmins realized she needed to find a middle ground. “In my price range, I could get a not-so-great house in a not-so-great neighborhood. Or, I could get a really cute condominium with a gas range and granite countertops,” she says. “It was something I compromised on. I gave up a yard for having fancy stuff in my condo.”

3. Are You Emotionally Ready?

When it comes to renting, surprises don’t require much emotional investment. The rent goes up? You can move. The fridge is on the fritz? The landlord will send someone over. Home ownership is a bit more hands-on. If the toilet breaks, it’s time to start reading Yelp reviews. And if property taxes unexpectedly rise, it’s on you to appeal or pay up.

“My homeowners association fee doubled in the first year I owned my condominium,” says Celmins. “Then my real estate taxes were reassessed. My mortgage payment went up and I panicked. I didn’t even know that could happen.”

Of course, having the financial flexibility to cover those unexpected things is important, but don’t overlook the importance of having the mental and emotional capability of dealing with them responsibly when they arise. Everything could be peachy for months, and then three maintenance issues might spring up in the same week. Stress management and problem solving skills are home ownership biggies.

4. Will Owning Pay Off in the Long Run?

Depending on the home you choose and where you live, you may pay a lower mortgage than you paid for rent. But even if you don’t, there’s still the financial advantage of building equity in your home, instead of lining your landlord’s pockets.

financial literacy5. Has Your Lifestyle Outgrown Renting?

Many people find a rental can only take them so far. When you’re ready to start a family, you’re going to want a few extra rooms, and that can get expensive with rising rental rates. A yard also provides a safe place for Junior to play or for a dog to scamper around. And speaking of Fido, the vast majority of renters have trouble finding a place that will allow for their pet. Home ownership can end that stress for good.

Then there are the renovations. If you’re itching to test out your DIY skills and personalize your space, you’re probably ready to own. Landlords who allow property renovations — especially DIY projects — are few and far between.

Buying a first home is a big change — both from a financial and an emotional perspective. Still, for many, home ownership can be one of the most rewarding life choices one can make. “Turns out it’s awesome,” said Celmins. “I love it so much.”

Should You Refinish Hardwood Floors Yourself?

refinishing-wood-floors-professional-buffing-standard1_3x2_8cac78c4ea5ab45fa5a48e0a4591ef6d_540x360_q85Only if you like uneven surfaces and putting out fires.

Of course, refinishing hardwood floors is a DIY job. That’s why all the Big Box stores rent floor sanders, right?

But just because you can rent a sander doesn’t mean you should. Even if your friends did dub you “Jackie-Of-All-Trades” after that amazing bathroom re-do last spring, you still might not have the stuff it takes to refinish your floors.

Seriously, you could end up with a floor that has so many dips and grooves, you’ll get more seasick than you did on that Disney cruise when you were 10. Worse, you could make a dangerous newbie mistake and start a fire. (True! We’ll explain in just a bit).

Even if the cost of hiring a pro ($4 to $5 per square foot) makes you sweat, don’t consider taking on the job yourself without an (ahem) honest evaluation of your own skills. (Do you really want to put your home value on the line to learn a new skill?) But if after reading this, you still decide to DIY, we’ve got a few tips to help you avoid a costly #fail.

How Much of a DIY Superstar Are You?

If you’re a long-time DIYer, but first-time refinisher, ask yourself if you could do these two things:

#1. Push a grocery-store cart (that has a sticky wheel and a toddler in the seat) at a steady pace with no jerky movements and no stops for your entire lunch break.

#2. Paint an Impressionist masterpiece.

OK, maybe those are a bit over the top. But sanding and staining your floors is no cake walk.

A floor sander can weigh well over 100 pounds — and move like it has a mind of its own (not unlike a wobbly store buggy). Plus it’ll make a ton of noise the whole time, completely getting on your nerves.

“The process is quite time-intensive, and not recommended for first-time DIYers,” says Victoria Stepanov, an interior designer who’s been remodeling homes for more than 15 years.

It’s difficult to control the sander, and while the bare floor may look fine after you’ve sanded it, the flaws will come shining through once the finish is done. You could be creating hills and valleys as you go along, Stepanov says, and not even know it. But once completed, the floor will have an ugly, topographical appearance, inflicting a serious ding on your home’s value.

Stepanov also very strongly advises newbies to skip oil-based stains and finishes, which require a steady hand with a paintbrush and tons of patience.

Uneven, hurried brushstrokes can leave your precious floor 16 shades of brown — not to mention the possibility of spontaneous combustion if you don’t handle your oily rags correctly. That’s because some oils dry through a process of oxidation — the same process that causes fires (see, it really can happen!). So oily fabrics must be sealed in a metal can with water filling the remaining space, or laid out individually to dry quickly. Never, ever pile up oily rags.

If that isn’t enough to make you think twice, how about if you knew you’d have to apply two or three coats to make it worthwhile? Now you’ve multiplied your chances of screwing up times three.

Is Your Floor Even Refinish-able?

Double-check that your type of floor can actually be refinished. Attempting to refinish laminate floors — which aren’t made of wood — could ruin them. And engineered hardwood, which has a layer of hardwood over a plywood core, isn’t a much better candidate. But basically, only floors with real hardwood throughout can tolerate refinishing.

You should’ve been told what type of floor your home has when you bought it — either in the listing details or in the inspection report. Or you can usually figure it out by pulling up a floor register and looking at the side of a plank to see if it’s all wood, laminate, or engineered wood.

Think You’re Up to DIYing It? Some Tips to Help

Get a demo. Installing the belt on a sander incorrectly can ruin your floor. Ask for a demonstration of how the whole thing works when you rent it.

Test it. Pick a discrete spot to test your process before you ruin your entire living room. Some chemical- or oil-based cleaning products leave a nasty, nearly-invisible residue, which might bubble to the surface once you start to seal the planks. If anything looks odd during testing, strip your floors using a mixture of ammonia and water, or use a commercial hardwood cleaner.

“No one likes surprises,” says John DeWees, owner of Denver Carpet and Flooring. “It might have been 20 years since someone used a chemical-based product, but it still got into the wood, and you don’t notice until the job is complete.”

Skip the stain. Keep your wood natural, then finish it with a water-based polyurethane instead.

DeWees says the water-based finish dries quickly, which is a plus. It does mean you’ll need to work fast, though, he says. It can start feeling dry to the touch in as little as 15 minutes. If you don’t work quickly, you risk visible overlapping strokes on the finished floor. Not a deal-breaker, but it will look amateurish.

Take your time. Refinishing your floor can take a week or more. A lot of that time will be spent, well, watching paint dry. Pros will let you know how long to stay away and help you seal up the room, but doing it yourself means you’re on your own. It’s best to wait at least 24 hours before touching the floor after each coat of polyurethane, even if it feels dry.

Wear socks — just socks. Shoes, bare feet, and pets can easily ruin all your hard work. So make sure to wear socks during the entire process and for the first 48 hours after the floor is done. In fact, your socks will help buff the floor! Sock race, anyone?

Do You Really Need to Clean Your Air Ducts?

cleaning-air-ducts-dog-standard_1x1_ebbd5beaaac0a8fd2e67fb6aed2b5059_620x620_q85Do you really need to pay good money to have your air ducts cleaned?

(Because some people actually should. Sorry! Hope it’s not you!)

Clean Air Claims

In order for your forced-air furnace or HVAC to deliver warm and cool air into your rooms, that air has to go through a system of ducts. So technically, you’re breathing in any dust, cobwebs, pet hair, and dander that line those ducts. Sounds harmful, right?

Not according to the experts. Dan Stradford, National Air Duct Cleaners Association treasurer and CEO for Action Duct Cleaning in Los Angeles, says there are no conclusive studies saying that duct cleaning will improve your home’s indoor air quality.

Asa Foss, LEED residential technical director for the U.S. Green Building Council, concurs. “I’ve never seen any data that suggests duct cleaning has a positive impact on indoor air quality and human health,” he says.

But Foss also says that’s only true when your ducts are airtight. Leaky ducts can pull in dirty air and allergens from basements, crawlspaces, garages, and attics — and blow it all around your house, Foss says.

So unless your ducts are leaky (easily fixed with foil-backed duct tape and insulation), or you have a special need, like a compromised immune system, nasty allergies, or you just did major construction, you probably don’t need to worry about air quality when it comes to the state of your air ducts. Woo!

Special (Super Gross) Circumstances

Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. Both the EPA and the National Air Duct Cleaners Association recommend professional duct cleaning if you have mold growth, vermin (vermin!), or excessive amounts of dirt and debris in your ducts.

Ahh! How do you know if you have vermin in your ducts? You can actually look yourself. Do a visual inspection by pulling off the register grill and looking around with a flashlight, or stick your arm in and take a photo with your phone. (Finally, an excuse to use that selfie stick you got stuck with at your work’s white elephant gift exchange.)

If you see mold, or a dead mouse, or any run-of-the-mill nasty stuff like droppings (ew, we’re so sorry), go ahead and call in a pro. Get those ducts cleaned.

Another situation that calls for cleaning, says EPA spokesman Mark MacIntyre, is right after lead paint remediation. “You wouldn’t want to have that being dispersed into the house when you turned on the heat.”

And finally, if you’re just finicky, you just be you. Be your own special circumstance.

“We have customers [for whom] just the thought of dirty ducts is upsetting to them,” says Stradford. “It’s individual preference.”

Scam Alert!

OK, so you’re gonna clean your ducts. Your dad will be proud. But be wary of scams. Stay away from companies willing to clean your ducts for $49 or another lowball figure, Stradford says. Often they’ll do a quick inspection and some vacuuming, tell you there’s mold growth and charge you thousands for clearing it out. It’s common enough that the National Air Duct Cleaners Association has an anti-fraud task force.

Look out for duct cleaners claiming they will sanitize your system. “We can’t legally use the words ‘sanitize’ or ’disinfect,’” Stradford says. “By definition sanitizing or disinfecting requires extremely high kill rates and there’s no way we can guarantee 100 percent saturation.”

Also, cleaning your ductwork alone is not going to make a difference. A real professional knows that, and should do annual maintenance on your entire system, including the air handler (that’s what they call that big metal box outside that cranks out the noise). {{ start_tip 7 }}Otherwise it’s the same as dusting your ceiling fan after you’ve vacuumed.{{ end_tip }}

So how much will it cost, and how long is it going to take? Typically, duct cleaning takes two to five hours, but it can go on for two days if you have a large house with lots of ducts, Stradford says. On average you should spend $300 to $700.

BBQ Wok-Grilled Vegetables with Feta

wok-fried-vegIdeally suited for summer grilling a medley of mixed vegetables, a non-stick grill wok or basket is an indispensable cooking tool for effortless al fresco dining. Simply placed on the barbecue with a bundle of seasonal vegetables tossed with a little olive oil, they can be cooked beside a couple of chicken breasts, omega friendly salmon filets or plump juicy tiger prawns and timed to be ready at the same time. Any combination of your favourite vegetables are great, but I love the colour and flavour of broccoli, red pepper, mushrooms and baby red onions garnished with a little feta once served. Easy, healthy and delicious, BBQ Wok-Grilled Vegetables make a fabulous summer side dish when it’s just to hot to do anything else.

BBQ Wok-Grilled Vegetables with Feta
Serves 4

1 head of broccoli, cut into small bite size pieces
1 pint cremini mushrooms, cleaned and halved
1 red pepper, seeded and chopped
6 baby red onions, skins and halved
1/4 cup olive oil
4 oz Greek feta

Place all of the chopped vegetables in large bowl and toss with a little olive oil. Preheat the BBQ to high heat. When hot, pour the vegetables into a non-stick grilling basket and place on the BBQ grill. Cook while tossing the vegetables frequently for about 10-12 minutes, or until the vegetables are just done. To serves, spoon the grilled vegetables into a serving bowl and garnish with the feta cheese.

From Elegant to Traditional: How to Enhance Your Home’s Exterior for the Holidays

porchheaderOne of the joys of the holidays is going out and about to see how others have decorated their homes. It not only adds an excitement to the air, but also may inspire you for how you’d like to decorate the exterior of your own home.

Perhaps the best place to start is the front porch, which is your home’s holiday greeting to all who visit or pass by. Whether your style is glam and glitz or traditional and country, these tips will make it easy to decorate your porch to celebrate fall, and then transition it seamlessly to winter holiday decor in no time!


GO FOR GOLD WITH GLAM DECOR

A simple, clean, elegant decor never goes out of style. And nothing says glamour quite like the color combination of black, white, and gold, which works quite well as a tool to show your style throughout the seasons.

In the fall, take advantage of front door planters by mixing autumn vegetables such as white gourds and cornstalks with pinecones.

Plus, you can add a striking focal point to your autumn decor by hanging a gold-painted harvest wreath on your door—this will maintain your glam theme while adding an extra touch of the season.

In the winter, switch out the autumn vegetables with more seasonal ornament-style decor, and forgo the usual pine wreath by opting for a clean gold straw wreath, to which you can add your own personalized touch of the season.

Cross-seasonal tip: Stringing pinecones around your door is an ideal transitioning tool—you won’t have to switch them out during the change of seasons!

traditionalfall-300x225KEEP IT COUNTRY WITH RUSTIC DECOR

The autumn and holiday seasons both evoke a sense of home and tradition, which is not only appealing to a lot of people, but also a hot design trend. You can reflect this style by implementing the tips below and bringing them all together in a bronze-colored tub.

In the fall, incorporate the colors of the season with fall vegetables, including mini gourds, autumn corn, and corn stalks; mix in some pinecones; and add a pop of white to contrast the oranges of autumn by including a white pumpkin in the mix.

traditionalwinter-300x225In the winter, switch out your traditional autumn colors with all white items, and frost the pinecones from your fall decor to bring the holidays to your doorstep; add a touch of green with some pine branches, which will also welcome guests with the scent of the season.

Cross-seasonal tip: Fill your tub with plenty of newspaper to add lift to your items so they stand out more.