Things will soon be heating up all over the country. In fact, the average household will spend 3 percent more on electricity bills this summer than in 2017, due to rising retail electricity prices and higher usage.
The good news is that homeowners can spend just a few hours before the season starts to make some quick fixes and easy improvements that will help them save energy and make them more comfortable all summer long, including:
Mind the maintenance: Schedule an annual routine check-up for your heating and cooling equipment to keep the system running as efficiently as possible, and check the air filter each month to see if it needs to be replaced.
Keep it cool: Add extra insulation to the attic, which will help prevent your home’s heating and cooling system from having to work harder to regulate the indoor temperature during the hottest months of the year.
Control cracks: Seal cracks around windows and doors with caulk or weather stripping to prevent conditioned air from escaping.
Set it and forget it: Install a programmable thermostat to adjust the temperature at certain times of the day, automatically regulating the temperature when you’re away. In addition, always set your thermostat to the highest temperature you can stand to save the most money. Homeowners can save as much as 10 percent a year on cooling bills by setting their thermostat 7 to 10 degrees higher than its normal setting for eight hours a day.
Make a clean sweep: Decrease dust and dirt in the home by cleaning with non-toxic, natural household cleaners, such as baking soda, cornstarch or white vinegar, and using a vacuum cleaner with a high-efficiency particulate air filter, which will trap small particles like dust that others re-circulate back into the air.
Seal the deal: Examine the home’s pipes and connections, as well as all vents, and add caulking or sealant, if needed, to ensure they are air-tight.
Clear the air: Breathe easier this summer by installing a whole-home air purification system, which is integrated with your home’s heating and cooling system. These systems are much more effective at eliminating airborne contaminants than portable room air cleaners and don’t produce ozone, which is a known lung irritant.
Homeowners should pay special attention to their heating and cooling system, which accounts for more than half of a home’s energy costs. The easiest thing homeowners can do to save energy and stay comfortable during the summer – and all year long – is to change the air filter on their system regularly; however, if your air conditioner is more than 10 years old, it’s time to consider replacing it with a more efficient system that will save significant energy and help lower utility bills.
Home improvement projects aren’t constrained to a single season, but during these warmer months, your focus is no longer simply on your home’s indoors. Now there’s outdoor yard work to do as well, and if you’re looking to recreate your outdoor space, your outside projects may include some landscaping. If you have landscaping as part of your to-do list this season, the right strategy can ensure that you get the most benefit from your landscaping goals with the least amount of headache.
To that end, here are five tips to simplify your landscaping projects this year:
1. Plan for the entire year. Landscaping projects can be hard work, and because of that, you deserve to enjoy them for as long as possible. That’s why it’s important to plan your landscaping layout with the entire year in mind. Research your plant and flower options based on bloom periods and plant a variety so your yard is always being introduced to new pops of color. You should also add evergreen shrubs and other such plant life to your overall plan to give you a spot of color in the winter and preserve your landscaping look.
2. Be mindful of other tools outside your home. When developing your landscaping strategy, you need to be aware not only of your home but the other vital components outside as well. Many homeowners are not mindful of their home’s HVAC units and may place landscaping solutions too close to the unit, which makes it difficult for techs to service the unit and exposes your system to the harmful effects of debris. Instead, plan to keep all landscaping at least two feet away from your HVAC system.
3. Touch every corner of your yard. Your home is naturally the focal point of your yard, but it doesn’t have to be the only one. Creating a berm – a mound-type space that you can fill with rocks, wood chips or a flower garden – can add a pop of color and visual appeal to an otherwise plain area. These visual attractions can be placed anywhere, but adding one to an otherwise deserted corner of your yard is a great way to tie the entire space together and make the most of an unused area.
4. Add plants that fit your lifestyle. When planning your landscaping project, it’s important to remember this isn’t just a one-time solution. Your landscaping will need continual work, and as such, your landscaping plan should be based partly on the time you have to dedicate to the project. For example, if you’re a person who appreciates beautifully colorful flowers but doesn’t want to replant them every year, you should start your project by planting perennials instead of annuals. Your time commitment in year one will be roughly the same, but you’ll ease your time requirements in the years ahead.
5. Monitor your budget. Like many things, a lavish landscaping project can get away from you very quickly in the financial department. Veteran landscapers know that it becomes very easy to get swept up in the project and before you know it, you’ve added a slightly larger tree or another bush or two. Then you suddenly have unexpected costs heading your way. Instead of ending your exciting project on a bad note with a higher bill, plan out your budget ahead of time. Try to get as specific as possible with where you plan to spend every dollar. The more you can hold to each line item in your budget, the better you’ll be able to avoid unnecessary expenses throughout the process.
Making landscaping improvements to your yard can be a fun and rewarding project provided you follow a strategy that makes the best use of your time and money. Apply the tips above and you’ll be rewarded with a beautifully landscaped yard that you can enjoy every day of the year.
Outdoor living spaces rank first among special function rooms desired by consumers, and so homeowners are expected to be going all-in for the outdoors in 2018.
According to gleaned insights from contractors, homeowners and industry experts, here are the outdoor living trends that will dominate 2018:
Among the biggest trends is a shift away from seasonality as consumers adopt more of a year-round mindset, no longer restricting outdoor living to spring and summer. Thanks to new high-performance materials and innovative design approaches, homeowners everywhere are transforming their outdoor spaces into multi-seasonal extensions of their homes.
Minimal maintenance, maximum enjoyment
Just because people are spending more time outdoors doesn’t mean they’re willing to put in extra hours for upkeep. In fact, high-maintenance materials like wood are seeing a decrease in demand as people are opting for offerings that deliver better performance and sustainability.
Unlike wood, high-performance composites resist fading, staining, scratching and mold – and won’t rot, warp, crack or splinter. No sanding, staining or painting is required, and food and drink spills wash off easily with just soap and water.
Among the hottest design influences right now is “hygge” (pronounced hoo-gah) – the Scandinavian term for a feeling of coziness and comfort. This year, outdoor spaces will beckon homeowners and their guests to relax and rejuvenate with hygge-inspired accents, from plush cushions and throws to protective pergolas, cozy warming features and outdoor lighting.
Residential goes commercial
While railing matched to the decking remains popular, an increasing number of homeowners are taking advantage of the complementary decking and railing pairings afforded by new railing materials in modern, metal finishes, as well as sleek designs inspired by commercial architecture. More homeowners are inspired by outdoor spaces they find in commercial settings, such as hotels and urban rooftops, and want to replicate those looks in their homes. A prime example of this commercial-to-residential trend is the growing popularity of horizontal railings such as rod rail – a sleek, industrial look that’s ideal for optimizing a panoramic view.
Hide and chic
With the increased usage of outdoor living spaces comes higher demand for chic decor and privacy. An easy design trick that adds personal style and functionality, lattice panels are perfect for enhancing privacy and concealing storage areas or unsightly views. With styles ranging from romantic to deco, lattice panels can be integrated into any outdoor area and applied to structures such as arbors, trellises and gazebos, or used as decorative wainscoting or deck skirting.
Fun and games
Kids are not the only ones who enjoy playing outside. Outdoor play spaces for all ages are on the rise, including everything from swimming pools and embedded sandboxes to regulation cornhole courts, horseshoe pits and dedicated spaces for volleyball, badminton and bocce ball.
Beyond yard games, electronics manufacturers now offer televisions and entertainment systems specifically designed for the outdoors, taking into consideration differences in lighting and outdoor acoustics. Meanwhile, new storage options include durable wall-mounted television and entertainment centers that beautifully protect pricey electronics from the elements, while concealing all of the unsightly – and potentially unsafe – cords and cables.
It’s your home’s focal point. The site of some of your best moments and the base of operations for entertaining – it’s your kitchen, and no room in your home is more valuable. A magnificent kitchen defines a home, and bringing your kitchen to this level means capitalizing on today’s top trends.
Here are the five trends that are sure to dictate kitchen styles for the rest of this year and beyond.
Appliances that can do it all. As home chefs have become much more refined, the need for kitchen appliances capable of delivering to these expectations has increased. Signature Kitchen Suite, the new-to-the-scene luxury brand, for example, debuted the first-of-its-kind pro-style range with built-in sous vide for the ultimate in precision cooking. The range is among the most versatile available with two extra-high burners that deliver 23,000 BTUs of cooking power and two ultra-low burners to maintain temperatures as low as 100 degrees. This appliance is also Wi-Fi enabled, which means you can monitor and control your kitchen wherever you are.
Unique backsplashes. The tile backsplash still has plenty of staying power, but the latest trends are upping the wow factor of this kitchen mainstay. From mirrored glass and backlit onyx to decorative sculptures, the kitchen backsplash is becoming the statement piece of any kitchen and a unique way to express your own style and taste.
Matte black finishes. The standard appearance of kitchen fixtures is taking on a darker tone in 2018, as matte black finishes are flourishing in a big way. This elegant, luxe appliance finish complements any kitchen and is also designed to conceal fingerprints and smudges. This smooth, low-gloss design option enhances any style kitchen, from modern to farmhouse, traditional to contemporary and every style in between.
Design elements everywhere. Long a place of functional purity, the kitchen is getting a dramatically artistic makeover in 2018. Imagine a lavish kitchen, complemented with unique patterns, angles and texture choices. It is possible to enjoy looking at your kitchen as much as you enjoy working in it.
Smarter kitchens. New Wi-Fi enabled appliances are helping people control their homes in new ways, allowing for greater convenience – either through the touch of a button on their smartphone or via voice commands through Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Want to preheat the oven before you head home from work? Done! Need a fresh batch of ice before company arrives? You don’t even have to get up. Forget to turn on the dishwasher? No problem. Choose a cycle and turn it on from virtually anywhere. Smart home leaders have also teamed with food and recipe services to better assist home chefs with planning, shopping, preparing and cooking delicious meals.
Need more renovation inspiration? Check out new virtual design tools to experiment with different styles and appliance combinations to create your dream kitchen. You may just find a whole new look for your kitchen.
Winter is in full swing and extremely cold temperatures continue to grip much of the country; which mean hats, gloves and high home maintenance bills could be in your future. According to recent data, in 2016 severe winter weather cost homeowners millions of dollars in property damages. While the seasonal shift can be a challenge for homeowners, taking these four steps today could ease home maintenance burdens this season and all year-round.
1. Take a look at your windows
Old windows – especially those with multiple panes of glass- are notorious for air leakage, allowing heat to escape the home while letting in cold air. If your home still feels drafty after you’ve turned the heat on, it may be time to upgrade to more energy-efficient windows.
It’s recommended that homeowners pay attention to insulating values and glass packages when selecting new windows for their home. Manufacturers have made significant technology advancements over the years. Thermal performance of windows can now achieve performance well beyond building code and Energy Star levels, significantly increasing energy efficiency. Along those same lines, low-E glass coatings allow us to customize windows to specific regional climate conditions. So, if a home has old windows, replacing them with new energy efficient ones can make a significant difference in comfort, while also saving energy.
2. Seal up any leaks
Air leakage through holes, gaps, or cracks in the home’s structure is one of the biggest causes of home heating and cooling loss. It’s estimated that reducing drafts could save homeowners from 10 to 20 percent on their annual energy costs. To help control air leakage through gaps and cracks larger than two inches, such as where the wall sets on the sub-floor or where pipes and wires go through wall plates, homeowners should use caulk or foam sealant materials. For smaller cracks, typically found around windows and doors, weather stripping can help manage leaks. Steps taken to seal your home and save heat in the winter will also help improve indoor air conditioning flow during summer months.
3. Think about adding insulation
In addition to sealing up any small leaks, it’s important to evaluate your home’s air tightness on a few fronts. For instance, consider adding materials such as fiberglass, cellulose or natural fibers to interior walls for enhanced insulation. On the exterior, look at areas like your home’s cladding and consider upgrading to an insulated vinyl siding system. In addition to boosting curb appeal and minimizing ongoing maintenance, insulated vinyl siding, efficiently reduces air leakage by providing continuous insulation along the entire exterior and covering wall studs that are left exposed by traditional wall coverage.
4. Keep your gutters clean
As temperatures drop, check your gutters to ensure they are completely devoid of leaves and debris so that water can flow freely. If needed, have professional gutter protection installed, such as a gutter protection system that includes a continuous hanger, to reduce the possibilities of ice damming. If melting ice is unable to drain due to buildup, it could seep into the walls and ceilings of your home. Having an effective gutter system installed is a simple solution that can prevent the hassles of gutter cleaning and damage throughout the year.
By keeping these tips in mind, you’ll be able to better protect your home from mother nature’s ways this winter and throughout the remainder of the year.
Whether you’re redecorating your home, changing up that old carpet for warm hardwood flooring, or just longing for a fresh coat of paint and some new accents in the living room, the design trends this year are all about texture, style and surprises. It’s hardwood floors celebrating knots and imperfections or variations in plank sizes and color. It’s wood on your walls and faux stone tile back splashes. It’s mixing unexpected materials to create an entirely new look. Mix, match and mosaic is what it’s all about this year.
Inspired by nature
Earth tones are big this year in everything from accent pieces, to linens and walls, to flooring. Think natural-colored solid hardwood and rattan dining chairs. Also on trend: breezy, uncomplicated seaside styles that incorporate natural aquatic blue and green shades.
A trend that was hot in the ’90s is also making a resurgence: faux stone, and designers taking artistic license with depicting natural stone in decor, flooring, and walls.
Stimulation of the senses
Create a mosaic of varying colors and textures in your home.
Hardwood flooring in 2018 will celebrate the natural beauty of the wood, showing and highlighting knots and naturally occurring imperfections, including varying plank sizes, colors, and widths. Artisan styles will also be popular this year, with hand-brushed and -scraped patterns.
The “raw meets polished” trend is all about high shine versus ultra low gloss. This may include reclaimed wood furniture, updated with modern, shiny metal hardware or the aesthetic of using both low gloss and medium gloss on your floor.
Also on tap this year is mixing metals, especially in the kitchen. Warm-toned fixtures can now live harmoniously with stainless appliances and with the latest appliance trend – a beautiful black finish! Copper, rose gold and oxidized metals are especially popular.
Cultural influences and animal prints
Globally, there are trends of warm minimalism (warmer shades of gray, blue and brown evoking Hygge), and on the flip side, bold maximalism, a strong mix of bold colors and patterns balanced with gray walls and blonde hardwood and wood-look floors.
Cultural influences in accent pieces continue to trend. Whether it’s a hand-woven basket or a lamp with a Moroccan design, they add a sense of global style to your rooms.
Although exotic hardwood is going out of style in favor of domestic species, we are still seeing fun pairings with animal prints in furniture and accessories, such as area rugs, which pair perfectly with natural material floors.
Victorian and antique
The reemergence of Victorian and antique decor can translate easily to flooring trends like Millwork Square Solid Hardwood parquet and strip hardwood in Prime Harvest.
Also in 2018, patterns are meant to be broken, especially in floors. Herringbone-patterned flooring is trending, and floors will incorporate different colors, textures, glosses, plank widths and lengths.
Flooring can even go on the walls, as seen by the continuation of the wood-on-walls trend. Overwhelmingly, though, hardwood floors will continue to be low-gloss and ultra-matte.
If you’re like most people, you prefer to have an immaculate bathroom – you just don’t like cleaning it.
In fact, in a recent study by Kohler, 42 percent of consumers admitted cleaning the toilet is one of their most disliked chores.
That said, domestic guru Martha Stewart recommends scrubbing your tub/shower enclosure, toilet and drains at least weekly to maintain decent standards of cleanliness. And a study shows 49 percent of adults place importance on doing their housecleaning right, though 27 percent would like to minimize the time they spend in such pursuits. That may be why 42 percent prefer to clean in small increments, though “most are not interested in compromising on effectiveness or results.”
People are more likely to prefer to clean as they go, doing quick cleanups that fit into their busy schedules, as opposed to setting aside time to give the whole house thorough top-to-bottom cleanings. This preference for on-the-go cleaning has helped fuel the market for quick-cleanup products designed to tackle small messes quickly and efficiently, saving both time and effort.
If cleaning the bathroom is on the bottom of your favorites list, consider some of these brilliant solutions technology has enabled that might make your bathroom sanitation a non-issue moving forward.
No flubbing the scrubbing. No more must you aggravate your bad back and tennis elbow manually scrubbing soap scum off your shower walls, sinks and grout. Powerful rotating brush scrubbers that operate on batteries can now do the heavy lifting for you; one of the latest is made up of a set of attachments that cleverly fit onto a normal household drill.
Go easy. Engineers at Kohler have developed a lower-maintenance toilet – the Corbelle with Revolution 360 flushing – that’s designed to remain cleaner, longer. Its CleanCoat surface repels bacteria, mildew and hard water buildup, its smooth design makes for easy surface maintenance and its powerful flushing motion flows at a 360-degree angle for thoroughness that minimizes the need for scrubbing.
Dreamy steam cleaning. Sanitize your bathroom floors, counters, tub and shower enclosures and other surfaces without chemicals by using one of the efficient and easy-to-use handheld steam cleaners now on the market. Steam can work efficiently to kill bacteria, germs and dust mites including E. coli, staph bacteria, salmonella and other micro-organisms.
Floored by cleanliness. For larger bathrooms, the new and nicely compact mopping robots can wet mop, damp sweep or dry sweep hard-surfaced floors. Internal navigation systems let them clean systematically while identifying rugs, drop-offs, spills and stains, the latter of which are tackled with jet sprays and vibrating cleaner heads.
Suck it up. Several vendors now offer 3.2-gallon motion-sensor trash cans that keep their contents out of sight but automatically open (via battery) when you’re ready to deposit dirt and debris.
Life is too short to spend more time than you have to keeping your house clean – and that’s where technology comes in handy. Consider investing in the products that can free up your life for more meaningful activities.
Think of all the items you replace regularly – your cellphone, light bulbs and even your toothbrush. But when was the last time you replaced your smoke alarm batteries, or even the alarms themselves? It’s easy to overlook, but the time to think about fire safety is now – before an emergency strikes.
Many assume that because they have smoke alarms in their homes, they’re protected in the event of a fire. In reality, smoke alarms need to be installed, maintained and tested regularly to ensure they’re working properly. That effort includes knowing how old smoke alarms and their batteries are, as neither lasts forever. While smoke alarm lifespan and sensing technology have improved in recent years, the fact remains that all smoke alarms – even hardwired and sealed battery models – expire after 10 years.
Three out of five home fire deaths occur in homes without smoke alarms or from missing or dead batteries. Just like other household duties, it’s important to make sure alarm maintenance and replacement and escape planning and practice become a regular, ongoing part of your family’s routine.
Count the alarms – In most cases, one alarm isn’t enough. It’s recommended that smoke alarms be installed inside every bedroom, outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home, including the basement, as well as one carbon monoxide (CO) alarm on each level and in each sleeping area. A quick and easy way to remember is one on every level and in every bedroom.
Install them properly – Does your alarm ever sound when cooking? Chances are, you’ve installed the alarm too close to your appliances. An easy way to reduce false alarms and maximize coverage is to take a moment to review manufacturer guidelines and install alarms in the proper locations. Smoke alarms should generally be installed at least 10 feet from a cooking appliance to minimize false alarms. It’s also recommended to install smoke alarms high on walls or ceilings. Remember, smoke rises, so high placement provides a direct path for detection. Lastly, don’t install smoke alarms near windows, doors or ducts, where drafts might interfere with their operation.
Get complete coverage – In general, there are two types of fires – quick flaming and smoldering. Today’s smoke alarms are effective at detecting both but use unique technologies that make them better suited for particular locations within the home. The installation of dual-sensor alarms will provide the best potential for early detection of all types of common household fires while helping to reduce the number of non-emergency alarms – all while providing a decade of protection without the need for costly and ongoing battery replacement.
Install and maintain – Having smoke alarms is only one part of the story. In order to function properly, all alarms must be regularly inspected and maintained. Make sure to test the alarm, by simply holding down the test button, at least once a month. Also, when testing, it’s important to clean the alarm to remove any dust or debris. This advice holds true even for newer alarms, which feature 10-year batteries, as well as hardwired alarms that feature a battery back-up. Check or replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall.
Plan your escape – Maintaining alarms is essential to every household, but what about your escape route? Unfortunately, recent research indicates that just 25 percent of families have an escape plan that they practice regularly. To develop an effective plan, walk through your home and inspect all possible exits and escape routes. Identify two ways out of each room, including windows and doors. Practice your home fire escape plan at least twice a year and make sure to plan a meeting spot.
House hunting can feel like an adventurous new chapter in your life. If you’re lucky enough to find the property that checks off all the “must have” boxes – appearance, size, price, location – it’s easy to fall in love.
Not so fast. Before making an offer on any property, it’s smart to take a deeper look at the overall structure and its systems, just to make sure warning signs of major and costly problems are not hiding in plain sight. If the house holds more issues than your budget (and drive to renovate) can handle, it might be best to walk away.
Of course, once the offer is accepted, it’s always a smart idea to hire a third-party home inspector to take an in-depth look at the property. In the meantime, one last pass-through with this checklist in hand can give you peace of mind about taking the next step.
Exterior: Walk around all four sides of the house, scanning it from ground to rooftop. Note the condition of the doors and window frames, and look for cracked or peeling paint or signs of loose siding. Higher up, eye the chimney, making sure it appears straight and is in good condition, while the gutters and drainpipes should be in place and functional.
Roof: Ideally, the roof would be 10 years old or less, so scan the roof for the classic warning signs of aging and neglect. Things like curled and missing shingles, dark stains, moss growth and signs of sagging can signal serious issues. (A home inspector can confirm if full replacement is needed, or if a few simple repairs would stabilize things for another decade or so.)
Yard: Take note of the landscaping. Is there a slope angled away from the house, or is there a potential for a flooded basement after a major rainfall? Mature trees provide lots of shade, but watch for overhanging branches, as these can break off in a storm and do major damage to the roof. Finally, take note of the condition of the driveway and sidewalks.
Foundation: The sight of a few hairline cracks in the cement is no cause for panic. Do look for telltale signs of serious issues, such as widening cracks, water stains and bulges. It doesn’t hurt to bring a level to make sure the walls are straight.
Plumbing: In addition to checking basement and under-sink pipes for signs of leaks, scan the ceilings for water stains. Open all the faucets to check the water pressure as well as the time it takes for hot water to reach the tap.
HVAC system: Know the age of the heating and cooling systems, and check these for tags and other signs of routine maintenance. If the system is older than a decade, that can spell costly repairs and a replacement in a brief time frame. When it comes to older systems, energy efficiency is another consideration. Newer HVAC systems are remarkably more efficient when compared to those from even a decade ago, which means they keep your house comfortable for as little as half the cost.
Appliances: Note the age and condition of things like the refrigerator, oven and range, washer and dryer, and hot water heater. As with the HVAC, older appliances tend to consume more energy and you’ll face a shorter timeline for needed repairs and replacements.
Buying a house is a big decision, but knowing what you’re buying can go a long way in assuring you that you’ve found the right place!
As homeowners look for ways to refresh their spaces, Scandinavian style has become ever more prominent and popular among designers and interior decor experts. The clean, modern, minimalist aesthetic shows up in interiors and exteriors, from streamlined furniture to low-maintenance landscaping. Here’s how to achieve a Nordic look in your own home:
“Slow design” and minimalist decor
Perhaps the most common association with Scandinavian style is minimalist decor. Less is more when it comes to decorating, and the concept of “slow design” focuses on fewer, higher quality pieces collected over time.
Melding indoors and out
Scandinavian style incorporates materials that meld indoors with outdoors – natural woods, slat walls, leather accents and greenery. “Cottage culture” architecture style draws on these influences and makes interiors feel like cozy cabins in the woods.
Functional furniture: Storage and good looks
Another key aspect of the Nordic style is hardworking, functional furnishings. A piece can be beautiful and also have utility – like eye-catching shoe racks and shelving, or built-in bed storage that creates a unique frame.
Cool, natural tones and light woods in flooring
Scandinavian style incorporates natural tones of whites, grays and light browns. Pale wood and whitewashed floors create a clean, spacious look. That look can be achieved with oak and maple styles, as well as wood-look tiles and laminates with wood graining. There are an array of cool-toned flooring options to choose from.
If homeowners want to be on trend with Scandinavian style in their home, the key is updating with clean, modern and light-toned accents. Functional furniture will help you organize your space and efficiently use the room. Finish off the room with sunny wood grain flooring and your Nordic look is complete.