Best Recipe to Remove Skunk Odor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be Mindful About Your Relationship With Energy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 5 Things That Really Work to Cut Energy Costs

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

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

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

Related: Lots of Homes Also Have This HUGE Air Leak 

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

Savings: Up to $412 a year.

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

Savings: Up to $180 a year.

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

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

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

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

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

Try Some Bite-Size Apple Bliss

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

Servings: 24 cookies


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


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

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

Find the Home Loan that Fits Your Needs

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

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

Mortgage Financing Basics

The most important features of your mortgage loan are:

1.  Term (how long the loan lasts)

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

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

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

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

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

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

ARM Risks and Rewards

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

Rewards for the uncertainty:

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

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

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

More Mortgage Options: Government-Backed Loans

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

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

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

Chalkboard Serving Tray

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


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


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

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

Play Fetch with an Upcycled Dog Toy

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


  • Scissors
  • T-shirt scraps in contrasting colors


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


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

How to Replace Weather Stripping

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

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

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

Identifying Worn Weather Stripping

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

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

How to Remove Old Weather Stripping

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

Options for New Weather Stripping

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

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

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

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

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

Prepare the Surface

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

Installation Tips

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

Installing Weather Stripping

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

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

How to Make Homemade Apple Cider

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

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

Servings: 8-10


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


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

Still Feeling the Mortgage Pinch???

Assemble all the pieces!

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Tips for Taking Down Walls and Creating an Open Floor Plan

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

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

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

Open living:

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

Here are some ways to achieve open living:

Removing Walls

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

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

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

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

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

Bringing in More Light

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

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

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

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

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

Raising Ceilings

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

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

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

Remodeling Staircases

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

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

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

Install Built-Ins

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

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

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

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

Open Living Tips

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

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

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

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

Tips for a Spring-Clean Home All Winter Long

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

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

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

Wash and Disinfect Garbage Cans and Wastebaskets

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

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

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

Wash and Disinfect Toilet Brush Holders

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

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

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

Turn Over Furniture and Vacuum the Bottoms

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

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

Clean the Tops of Doors, Trim, and Artwork

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

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

Vacuum Behind the Fridge

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

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

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

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

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

Take off the bottom faceplate to expose the coils.

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

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

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

Winterize Your Entry

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

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

Clean Windows

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

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

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

Wipe clean and polish using microfiber cloths.

Clean Ceiling Fan Blades

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

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

Vacuum Out the Dryer Vent

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

Tips for cleaning a dryer vent from the inside:

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

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

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

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

Change Furnace Filters

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

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

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

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

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

Happy cleaning (and breathing!) this winter.

7 Mistakes That Cost Homeowners BIG Money During Cold Weather

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Instagramming Your Icicles Instead of Preventing Them

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Going Lazy on Your Gutters

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

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

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

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

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

4. Giving Cold Air a Chance to Sneak In

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

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

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

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

5. Not Getting Personal with Your Thermostat

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

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

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

6. Skipping Furnace Tune-Ups

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

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

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

7. Foregoing a Fireplace Inspection

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

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

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

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


  • 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


  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 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!


  • 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


  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:

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.


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


  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


  • 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


  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.