Posted by JoAnn M. Drabble on 8/16/2017

No matter your budget, there's always an upgrade or two that'll up the resale ante.

Whether your home improvements are for you or potential buyers, consider their impact on your home’s potential resale price before picking up your toolbox (or the phone to call a contractor).

A brand-new kitchen or bathroom will undoubtedly wow potential buyers, but there’s no guarantee you’ll recoup the money you put into those pricey remodels.

To help you navigate the choices that lead to the best return on investment, we asked two industry experts (and one enthusiastic DIYer) to weigh in.

Kitchen renovations

“Renovating the kitchen is always the biggest way to add value to your home,” says Grace Fancher, real estate agent at Kansas City firm Sarah Snodgrass. “People love to cook, and everyone tends to gather in the kitchen. If you add seating, such as an island with barstools, buyers go crazy for that.”

A full remodel is a major investment, but smaller projects make a big difference if you can’t — or don’t want to — go all out. “Nicer appliances really stick out to potential buyers — even if you’re planning to take them with you,” Fancher says.

She also suggests replacing tired finishes with fresh, neutral materials. “You don’t want to be too trendy, but you want it to look up-to-date,” she says. “Everyone loves clean, white subway tiles now, but they’re really a timeless look.”

Replacing dated countertops (quartz is your best bet, according to Fancher) and flooring is also worth the time and money.

Bathroom updates

The smallest rooms in the house can have a big impact on its value, so Fancher suggests adding a second bathroom or upgrading existing ones so your home features at least two full baths.

Joe Monda, co-owner of Seattle-based general contracting firm Promondo, agrees. “People are spending more on upgrading their houses before listing them,” he says. “They really want to maximize the potential house value.”

But if you’re remodeling a bathroom just to put your house on the market, keep it simple. “Most people don’t want to pay for upgrades, so you want it to be a neutral space that doesn’t look straight out of the big DIY warehouse stores — even if it is,” says Fancher.

She adds that an easy solution is spending a little more on details, like high-quality towel bars and upgraded hardware for those big-box store vanities.

Not in a position to remodel? “Re-grouting tile, or even just using one of those grout paint pens, gives any bathroom a fresher look,” says Sharyn Young, a self-proclaimed DIY addict from Minneapolis.

Lighting upgrades

“The brighter a room feels, the bigger it looks,” says Fancher. “And when you’re selling, you want every space to look as big as possible.”

She recommends replacing flush-mount ceiling lights with recessed and/or pendant lighting — a relatively cheap upgrade that looks modern and makes a huge impact.

“LED lighting has changed everything,” says Young. “There are so many readily available, inexpensive options now that are easy to install. I added Ikea under-cabinet lighting in the kitchen of my last house, and I was amazed at how that one simple upgrade made the space feel larger and cleaner.”

Photo from Zillow listing.

Fresh paint

Like lighting, a new coat of paint can also make a space feel cleaner and brighter. Stick to neutral shades, such as light gray and beige, and if you don’t have time or budget to do the whole house, start with the living areas you see when you first walk in.

An even quicker fix is refreshing just the trim. “Beat-up, dirty trim can give buyers a subtle impression that the whole house is dingy,” Fancher says. “Repainting gives a sharper look and shows the buyer that you’ve taken care of the house.”

Landscape improvements

“A lot of people overlook how important landscaping is, especially when you’re selling in the spring or summer,” says Fancher, adding that you can increase curb appeal by just putting down new, dark-colored mulch, if you don’t want to spend a lot of money on planting.

Monda suggests paying special attention to the entry. Repair or replace any damaged stepping stones, concrete paths, and porch plants, then give the front door a fresh coat of paint and add some potted plants. “You want people to be excited to walk in the door,” he says.





Posted by JoAnn M. Drabble on 8/4/2017

 

With just a few simple adjustments, you can plug into big savings on your annual utility spending.

We all want to save energy and money, right? But it’s not always so easy — perhaps you don’t have the time for a home energy audit, or maybe there simply isn’t room in the budget for that energy-saving appliance you want.

No worries! Here are some quick and easy ways to reduce your home energy usage right now.

Reduce hot water usage


Don’t worry — you don’t have to take a low-flow shower! But heating up hot water does require energy, so take the simple and painless route:

  • Adjust the water heater’s temperature. Lower your water heater to 120 degrees F (49 degrees C). An added bonus — you’ll lower the risk of scalding accidents.
  • Don’t overuse the dishwasher. Try to run your dishwasher only once a day or when it’s completely full. See if your utility company offers savings for running appliances at off-peak times.
  • Wash clothes in cold water. Most modern detergents clean clothes very well with cold water. If you have items that you really need to wash in hot water, save them up and do one hot load every few weeks.

Projected savings: Up to $250 per year, depending on the number of people in your home.

Turn it off

Little things add up! An easy way to save money on your energy bill is turning off the lights, electronics, and other energy users when you’re not using them.

  • Leave a room, switch lights off. Make a habit of turning off everything in the room when you leave it — the TV, lights, your computer, etc.
  • Get the kids involved. Make a game out of turning off the lights instead of constantly reminding them to do it. Offer some sort of small, nonmonetary reward for remembering to turn off their bedroom lights for a week.
  • Install countdown timer light switches. For intermittently used rooms, such as the bathroom or laundry room, install a countdown timer light switch that will turn off the lights after a specified period, so you don’t ever have to worry about it.

Projected savings: Between $100-$300 per year, depending on the number of people and rooms in your home.

Heating and cooling bill savings

Generally speaking, the furnace and air-conditioner are the big energy hogs in your home. Here are some easy ways to reduce your dependence on them — and save money!

  • Use windows strategically. Install heavy drapes or blinds on windows located in sunny areas of your home. Open the blinds on cold days to take advantage of the sun’s warmth, and close them on warm days to block out the sun.
  • Install ceiling fans. This one takes a bit more effort than the others, but the payoff can be quite large. Run ceiling fans counterclockwise or downward during the summer to force cool air down into the room. Run them clockwise and upward in the winter to better distribute the warm air.

  • Adjust the thermostat. Yes, this sounds obvious, but one of the best ways to save on heating and cooling bills is simply lowering the thermostat in the winter and raising it in the summer! A programmable thermostat is ideal, but you can save money even with a traditional thermostat. In winter, lower your thermostat by 10 to 15 degrees for at least eight hours — when you leave for work, before you go to bed, or both — then raise it when you’re back.  If you have air-conditioning, do this in reverse come summer.

Projected savings: From 10-30 percent on your heating and cooling bills each year.

Saving energy doesn’t have to be a chore. With some very simple lifestyle changes, you can reduce your carbon footprint and save big!





Posted by JoAnn M. Drabble on 7/27/2017

HGTV Elbow Room's Chip Wade weighs in on the most common home repair questions in the HGTV Magazine series, Talk to a Toolman.


 

How Do I Replace a Doorknob?

Give It a Go. Chip says, use a long screwdriver to remove the screws that hold the doorknob in place — they'll be tucked below the knob on one side of the door. Then, pull apart the entire doorknob assembly. Unscrew the strike plate on the side of the door, and slide out the latch (the metal bar that goes into the strike plate when the door is locked). Your new doorknob should come in a kit with all these pieces. Slide in the new latch first, then align both knobs on either side of the door and screw them in. If your new knob doesn't match up with the old screw holes, patch them, then pre-drill new holes for the new knob and screw it in. Finish by screwing in the new strike plate.

Can I Add a Retaining Stone Wall to My Yard on My Own?

Hire a Pro. Chip says, you may think you can just start stacking stones, but if your wall doesn't have a properly installed footing (a.k.a. foundation), it can topple over. In fact, any wall that's more than two feet high, which is as low as most walls get, requires engineering to be supported properly. That's why I suggest calling in a landscape contractor. He or she will make sure the wall — whether it's made from concrete, stones or natural boulders — has a solid foundation, then they will build it up to just the height you want.

What Should I Do About Scuffed Hardwood Floors?

Give It a Go. Chip says, the only way to really fix a scuff is to refinish that portion of the floor. A pro job can cost hundreds of dollars, so if the area is small, do it yourself. First, clean the spot with a degreaser. Then, sand it with a sanding sponge or an orbital sander, going from coarse grit to a fine grit. Wipe the wood with a damp cloth, then restain it by applying the stain in light coats with a foam brush then wiping with a rag. Let it dry, then use a paintbrush to apply a protective finish such as polyurethane, extending it a bit beyond the repairs so it blends in. If it looks too glossy after it dries, buff away some of the sheen with superfine steel wool.

What Should I Do About Worn Kitchen Tile Grout?

Give It a Go. Chip says, first scrape away at least 1/8-inch of the old grout with a grout removal tool— you can get a handheld one for about $5 or a bit that attaches to the end of an oscillating power tool starting at about $15 at the hardware store. Clean the area with a disinfectant to kill any mold or mildew, then start regrouting: If your tiles are spaced 1/8 inch apart or less, use non-sanded grout. Otherwise, use sanded grout. Spread some on a rubber grouting trowel, then hold the trowel at a 45-degree angle and spread it over the wall, forcing it into the gaps between the tiles. Scrape away any excess, then let the grout set for 10 minutes and wipe the tile with a damp rag. After the grout dries, spray it with a sealant.

How Do I Add Radiant Heating to My Bathroom Floor?

Hire a Pro. Chip says, you'll have to rip up your existing floor, so it's best to hire an experienced tile installer. I suggest an electric radiant heat mat — which is like an electric blanket under your floor — as opposed to a hydronic system, which uses pipes filled with hot water and requires a major remodel, costing thousands of dollars. To install the heat mat, the tile pro will remove your floor down to the subfloor, then lay down a backer board, a compressed stone or fiber cement covering that shields the subfloor from moisture. Next, he or she will add the heat mat and encapsulate it in mortar. Once it's dry, they will install the new flooring. In a standard-size bathroom, the job should take three or four days.

Can I Get Rid of a Popcorn Ceiling?

Hire a Pro. Chip says, if the "popcorn" was added before 1979, you must first check that it doesn't contain asbestos by either sending a sample to a lab or calling in an asbestos abatement pro. Depending on the result, you should either have the asbestos expert remove it, or, if it's asbestos-free, you can hire a general contractor to do the work. The job will be dusty and messy, so before the pro arrives, clear everything from the space and lay down drop cloths to protect your floors. The pro will then scrape the ceilings clean and apply fresh drywall. The entire process should take two days.

How Can I Boost the Water Pressure in My Shower?

Give It a Go. Chip says, check that the shower is the only place where you have low pressure — if that's the case, your showerhead's spray jets are likely clogged with mineral deposits. To clear them out, soak the head in a solution of one part white vinegar to three parts water. Let it sit overnight, then poke a toothpick or pin in the spray jet holes to remove buildup. For stubborn gunk, you can also scrub the inside of the head with a toothbrush. Then, rinse it clean and screw it back on. If the water from your faucets also dribbles out, you may have a problem with your pipes, so call a plumber.

How Do I Get Rid of Stains on Granite Countertops?

Give It a Go. Chip says, granite may look solid, but it's actually porous and can absorb spills if not sealed well. If you have non-oily stains, such as coffee, use concentrated hydrogen peroxide, found at beauty supply stores. For oily stains, like salad dressing, use concentrated acetone. (It's different from nail polish remover.) Wearing rubber gloves, soak some paper towels in the peroxide or acetone, then layer them over the soiled area. Cover with plastic wrap, taping the edges. Let sit for 24 hours, then peel up the plastic, leaving the towels in place until dry. Repeat until the stain is gone, then wipe with granite cleaner and coat with granite sealer.

My Basement Air Feels Damp. How Can I Fix It?

Hire a Pro. Chip says, you can use a dehumidifier to make the area more comfortable, but to really treat the problem, you need to get rid of the source of the moisture. Check the basement's ceiling, comers and walls. If the problem is localized, like a wet spot on the ceiling, have a plumber look for leaky pipes. If you see condensation or wet spots on the walls, call a foundation repair company. They'll check that settling cracks aren't letting ground water seep in, and they'll make sure the earth around your house slopes away from the foundation so water isn't trickling into your masonry.





Posted by JoAnn M. Drabble on 7/20/2017

Looking at mudroom ideas and planning a remodel—no matter how small or large—might seem like a deep back-burner project, especially if your kitchen cabinets need an overhaul and every shrub in the yard is begging to be pruned. But adding smart details to your entryway might actually save you time and reduce daily stress. And while you're at it, why not give yourself a stylish and well-organized place to store every shoe, umbrella, and set of keys so you never lose your head trying to find them again?

These are the seven decorative elements that every good mudroom (aka a high-traffic area by the front door) needs.

1. Umbrella dilemma


The first thing you want to do with a dripping umbrella when you enter the house is drop it. But try to resist this urge and instead stuff it into a handsome vessel.

"Choose something unexpected like an old crock or an oversized ceramic pitcher," suggests Carole Marcotte, an interior designer with Form & Function, in Raleigh, NC. Just make sure any container you select is tall enough to accommodate umbrellas of various lengths.

If you have enough depth in your mudroom, build in narrow cubbies or a crosshatch rack for umbrella storage, says Mark Lestikow, CEO of Closet Factory Colorado.

2. Writing on the wall


A chalkboard or whiteboard strategically placed on the wall of your mudroom is the perfect solution for alerting your gang about dental appointments, important phone numbers, and any other reminder you need to jot down.

"Post a calendar in this space, too," says Jamie Novak, organizing pro and author of "Keep This Toss That." Use a highlighter or attach neon sticky notes on those days that have a different schedule.

3. Hook 'em



An abundance of hooks in all sizes is a must in any mudroom. Think beyond the standard three-hook hangers you can buy at your favorite home decor store.

"You need lots and lots of hooks for car keys, your work lanyard, dog leashes, shopping bags, backpacks, your purse, jackets, baseball caps, scarves, and more," says Novak.

"You'll also need a hook for the dog's towel when she comes in muddy and wet from her walk," adds Lorena Canals, founder of the eponymous home accessories brand. For the little ones in your house, hang a second row of hooks at kid height.

4. Mirror, mirror



Hang a mirror so you can get a last-minute glance at your mug before heading out the door. Getting a full-length one is even better if you have the space, notes Novak. Get creative with multiple mirrors of varying sizes like the circular ones seen above.

"You're passing through this space multiple times a day; you want it to make you smile," she says.

5. Smart storage



You can't just throw everything on a hook or in a basket and call it a day.

Amy Bell, owner of Red Chair Interiors in Cary, NC, recommends shelves for footwear, rather than baskets or bins.

"Shoes are just easier to put away and retrieve from hard-surface storage, and they tend to look tidier all lined up in a row," she says. You can also add a stash spot for sunglasses, phones, mail, receipts, and small change.

You'll also want to designate a spot for bags, backpacks, and laptop cases so they aren't just plopped on a chair or bench.

"I also like to keep an open shelf in the mudroom for things that need returning, such as library books or the neighbor's lasagna dish," says Bell. Also consider a section in your mudroom for items that can be rotated out seasonally (gloves and scarves in winter; swim goggles, sunscreen, and bug spray in summer).

6. Have a seat



At the very least, place a bench in the mudroom where the family can sit to put on their shoes. Marcotte recommends old locker benches.

"They have an interesting, industrial look, and kids can't beat them up any more than they already are," she says. Or poke around a flea market for a lone church pew and place baskets underneath. If you want to go the built-in route (like the mudroom above), you can design it with pull-out drawers below the bench.

7. Charge it



While hooks and baskets are the mudroom standard, modern families often have a number of outlets with chargers on a rack to hold everyone's phone, says Lestikow. It might seem counterintuitive, but installing this tech station right by the door might encourage kids—and adults—to power down their devices earlier and finish the day face to face.





Posted by JoAnn M. Drabble on 7/5/2017


 

The summer solstice has passed, July is upon us, and the temperature outside feels like the surface of the sun. We get it—manual labor around the house might not be your top priority (especially when compared with, say, an air-conditioned, sangria popsicle–fueled "Game of Thrones" binge on the couch).

Since we know home maintenance can be one of the least appealing parts of adulting, we're here to help. Read on for a trusted list of quick, relatively painless tasks that'll potentially save major repair costs down the road.

Task No. 1: Seal up your home

"Using caulk to seal cracks and openings in your home is one of the most inexpensive ways you can save money on your utilities," says Dave Quandt, vice president of field operations for American Home Shield. "It can also help improve your home's air quality, prevent moisture problems, and prolong the life of your HVAC system."

Shortcut: Pay particular attention to leaks around doors, windows, attic access panels, recessed ceiling lights, electrical outlets, and switch plates.

Call in the pros: Quandt also recommends sealing and insulating air ducts, which can go a long way toward lowering your electricity bills.

"Air loss through ducts can lead to high electricity costs, accounting for nearly 30% of a cooling system’s energy consumption," he says. He recommends calling in a professional to do the job, which costs $400 to $1,000—an expense that can easily be earned back with a hefty return on energy savings.

Task No. 2: Scrub the decks

Prime your outdoor space for backyard barbecue blowouts by decluttering and deep-cleaning. Use a broom, leaf blower, or wet-dry vacuum to remove debris from all patio surfaces. Next, tackle the furniture.

Use a mixture of warm water and dish detergent to gently wipe down furniture cushions before leaving them out in the sun to dry. Open your patio umbrella, and use a vacuum or broom to remove any cobwebs. Wash the umbrella with soapy water and leave it open to dry. Finally, wash the patio furniture frames with soapy water, and rinse everything off with a hose.

Shortcut: To really make your deck gleam, considering renting an electric pressure washer (typically $40 per day from home improvement stores such as Home Depot and Lowe's).

Call in the pros: You can also hire a professional power washer for $250 to $420.

Task No. 3: Freshen your pool

Nothing kills your summer party game like a pool full of algae, so take a few easy steps this month to keep your water in the clear.

Shortcut: Test the pH level weekly with a pool water test kit to make sure chemicals are balanced and safe. Chemical level guidelines vary depending on the season and weather conditions, but the pH level should remain between 7.2 and 7.8 for the cleanest and safest water.

To destroy any contaminants, you'll want to shock the water—preferably at night so the sun doesn't burn off the chemical cocktail. Take care to never add the shock directly to your skimmer or directly to the water (which can bleach and weaken your liner). Instead, dissolve the shock in a bucket of water before adding it to your pool.

Call in the pros: If chemistry isn't your thing, routine pool maintenance will typically set you back an average of $243 a month.

Task No. 4: Inspect your windows

Poorly insulated or installed windows can sap energy from your home—and let in summer's delightful brood of insects.

Shortcut: Check for any gaps between your windows and their casings, and inspect your screens for holes. The price for new screens vary depending on a variety of factors (including the size of your window and your geographic area), but you can plan to spend between $5 and $15 per screen.

Call in the pros: A professional can take care of this for you, but you'll pay a premium on those hourly rates. A professional window screen replacement service will run anywhere from $90 to $200 for five windows, or a handyman could cost up to $340 for five windows. (You should always ask about discounts for having multiple windows done at one time.)

Task No. 5: Give your washer and dryer some TLC

In these dog days of summer, you're probably sweating through a few more outfits than usual. (No? Just us?) If you're buried in laundry, you'll want to make sure your washer and dryer can handle the load. Nurture those appliances now so you aren't schlepping to a laundromat later.

Shortcut: A bit of diluted bleach or white vinegar in the washer drum will usually take care of most cleaning needs and prevent mold from growing, according to Chris Granger, vice president and general manager of Sears Home Services.

If you have a front-loading washer, make sure to clean the gasket (that circular piece of rubber that seals the door). Use a diluted vinegar or bleach solution, and wipe behind the gasket to remove any detergent buildup or debris. Leave the door open when you're done to allow the gasket to dry.

Finally, take it easy on detergent.

"Using too much detergent can damage your washer," Granger says. "Detergent residue can build up in the washer—and on clothes—resulting in unpleasant odors in the machine, clothes that are not completely rinsed, and, over time, machine components that can fail."

In the dryer, remove and wash the lint screen—especially important if you use dryer sheets. And if you find that the automatic cycle isn’t fully drying your clothes, check for excess lint in the dryer vent tube.

Extra credit: If you have moisture sensors (the thin strips typically located near the dryer vent), clean them with soap and water to remove any residue, which can trick the sensors into thinking your clothes are prematurely dry.

Call in the pros: Consider calling a professional cleaning company to ensure your dryer vents are clear ($90 to $160—money well-spent to mitigate a potential fire hazard).

Task No. 6: Drain your water heater

Just like changing your car's oil, flushing your water heater improves your unit's efficiency and life span—and keeps your showers as scalding hot as you like them. You should drain your water heater once a year to clear out built-up sediment and minerals that could affect its performance.

Shortcut: To drain your water heater, turn off the electricity or gas to the unit, close the cold water supply valve, and affix a hose to the drain valve. Snake the hose outside and open the drain valve first, followed by the pressure relief valve. This will allow water to drain from the tank. Once the tank is empty, open the cold water valve again and let the water run clear from the hose. Close the drain and pressure relief valves, allow the tank to refill, and detach the hose. You're now ready to turn your clean water heater back on.

Call in the pros: A professional plumber will charge between $75 and $150 to tackle this task.

Task No. 7: Plant your fall veggie garden

This, of course, depends on your location and climate—but in general, midsummer's a great time to plant certain fall harvest fruits and vegetables. Think basil, broccoli, cauliflower, and leafy greens such as chard, spinach, and collard greens.

Shortcut: Check out this handy guide for a region-by-region list of what to plant where.

Call in the pros: If you want the fruits of someone else's labor, you can hire a professional gardener. Prices will vary, but you could expect to pay $20 to $50 an hour for a skilled gardener.







JoAnn M. Drabble