Category: Home Improvement

How to Conserve Energy While Keeping the AC On

Air conditioning is a welcome luxury come the dog days of summer. Few people can imagine getting through a hot summer afternoon without turning their AC on, which can make July and August some of the more costly months on the calendar regarding energy consumption.

Though the months of July and August may not seem well-suited to cutting energy consumption, there are ways to conserve that doesn’t require turning off the AC.

Reconsider the location of your thermostat

The Performance Building Institute, Inc. notes that thermostats are sensitive to heat. Thermostats located near heat-generating appliances like lamps, televisions, and computers may be fooled into thinking a home’s interior is warmer than it actually is. That will keep a temperature-controlled AC running longer and more frequently than is necessary. If necessary, move the thermostat to a part of the home where there are no electronics and appliances.

Emphasize maintenance of the AC unit

Even the most energy-efficient AC unit will be forced to work harder, and consume extra energy if it’s not well-maintained. The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy notes that ENERGY STAR-certified HVAC equipment can yield annual energy savings of 10 to 30 percent. But such products must be maintained. Annual maintenance appointments with an HVAC technician can ensure the unit is clean and refrigerant levels are correct, helping it run as efficiently as possible.

Embrace natural ways to keep a home’s interior cool

Cranking the AC is not the only way to maintain a comfortable temperature inside a home during the months of July and August. Closing curtains on hot days keep the sun out and makes it easier to maintain comfortable temperatures inside without lowering the temperature on the thermostat. Avoiding the stove on hot nights and preparing cold meals or firing up the grill outside is another way to keep the house cool.

Address insulation issues

Cracks around windows and doors affect the temperature inside the home, making it colder in winter and warmer in the summertime. Seal cracks around doors and windows to keep the cool air in during the summer. Keeping that air in should allow you to raise the temperature on your thermostat without compromising comfort.

Come the dog days of summer, conserving energy needn’t come at the cost of comfort. Various strategies can help people reduce their energy consumption and keep their air conditioners on.

Turn Your Yard Into a Vacation-Worthy Oasis

Warm weather means more time to relax outdoors. For those homeowners lucky enough to have entertaining spaces outside, spring and summer provides plenty of opportunities to enjoy the fresh air under the sun or stars.

Over the last few years, families have become especially familiar with what works about their yards and where there is room for improvement. Pandemic-related travel restrictions and early stay-at-home mandates resulted in plenty of time spent in backyards on staycations. Even though many such restrictions have been lifted, homeowners may have seen the benefits of having functional respites right outside their doors.

A backyard renovation can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000. The American Society of Landscape Architects suggests homeowners budget the cost of a major landscaping project at between 5 and 10 percent of their home’s value. Large or small, here are ways to make an outdoor oasis at home.

Create living privacy

Living in close proximity to neighbors may make privacy harder to come by. Wood or vinyl fences, however effective, may not provide the all-natural look many people desire. Vertical gardening, which trains easy-care vines like English ivy, Clematis or various climbing roses to grow on trellis or fencing adds greenery and privacy. Hedges and fast-growing shrubs also can be used for natural barriers.

Install a pool

Pools are the ultimate spots to cool off on hot days. An elaborately shaped inground pool can blend in with the landscape and offer the ultimate hang-out zone. However, above-ground pools also serve the purpose and are more budget-friendly. Stock tank pools are popular among those who want minimal pool expenditure or have small spaces to work with. Stock tanks are metal vessels traditionally used as watering holes for livestock. They also can be “adult kiddie pools” when combined with some plumbing. Galvanized steel frames make them sturdy. With floats and other accessories, they can become the perfect oasis.

Provide outdoor atmosphere

Create a bespoke bistro vibe by using freestanding planters and posts along with hanging lights to make an intimate outdoor hangout spot at night. For those with permanent structures, like a deck or a gazebo, lights can be strung across the area or on railings or edging.

Extend the living space

Decks and patios can help make outdoor entertaining areas more comfortable by eliminating the need to sit on the grass or gravel. Plus, they add another “room” to the home. When paired with weatherproof patio furniture, such as sofas, loungers, and tables, a private seating area can be crafted and utilized for any number of entertaining desires.

Hang a hammock

Few things evoke feelings of relaxation better than a hammock. Fitted between two trees (or two posts if trees are sparse), a hammock is an ideal place to grab a nap or read a book.

Additional oasis-inspired ideas include outdoor kitchens, letting up lanterns, cascading water features, and bird feeders to attract the sounds of nature.

All-Natural Ways to Protect Food Gardens From Pests

Homeowners frequently enhance their outdoor living spaces with attractive plants and trees. When that greenery also produces food, the results can be both beauty and bounty.

People who plant vegetable gardens and fruit trees in their yards can be blessed with an abundance of fresh pickings once it’s time to harvest. In fact, many home gardeners may have visions of warm evenings pulling vegetables right out of the garden and tossing them on the grill or in salads. But insects and animals enjoy fresh produce just as people do. The joy of harvesting from a garden can be diminished when unwanted guests have gotten there first.

Homeowners can employ these all-natural strategies to protect their fruits and vegetables from lawn pests and critters.

Plant gardens in raised beds

Though they’re not a fool-proof deterrent, raised beds can eliminate some garden infiltration by small critters that come up and under from the ground. A raised garden bed can deter rabbits, gophers, groundhogs, slugs, and some other crawling pests. Raised beds also are ergonomical and easily accessible.

Prepare homemade insecticide

The environmental information site Treehugger provides information on making a homemade insecticide from vegetable oil and mild soap. Use one cup of oil with one tablespoon of soap (such as Dr Bronner’s castile soap). Add this mixture to one quart of water in a spray bottle. This concoction can eradicate aphids, mites, thrips, and more by coating insects’ bodies and effectively suffocating them. Soap-and-water sprays or even neem oil sprays work similarly.

Sprinkle diatomaceous earth

Diatomaceous earth, commonly known as DE, is an abrasive powder comprised of fossilized algae diatoms. It’s commonly used as a filter medium in swimming pools but also makes an effective pesticide. The material’s abrasive and absorbent qualities draw moisture out of insects, essentially dehydrating them to death. DE can be sprinkled around the base of plants but will need to be reapplied after rain and watering.

Space out plants

One way to reduce insect or animal pest numbers is to ensure ample space between plants. Tightly planted crops create a breeding ground for fungal diseases and also provide hiding spots and warmth for pests. Leaving room between plants can help avoid these issues, according to Gardening Channel.

Use row covers or garden mesh

Specialized covers and meshes protect fruit and vegetables against insects and animals. Many plants can be covered all year long as long as the covers are lifted during flowering if the crops depend on pollination by bees. Veggiemesh® is a cover that can be laid over plants.

Interplant crops in the garden

Interplanting is a technique that involves alternating crops, herbs, and flowers to confuse the pests so they have a difficult time finding what they want to eat. Alternate rows of vegetables with herbs and flowers that appeal to beneficial insects.

Keeping pesky insects and animals from damaging food gardens can involve techniques that are safe and natural.

Outdoor Improvements That Boost Home Value

Whether home improvement projects are designed to improve the interior or exterior of a house, focusing on renovations that make the most financial sense can benefit homeowners in the long run. The right renovations can be assets if and when homeowners decide to sell their homes.

So how does one get started? First and foremost, speak to a local real estate agent who is knowledgeable about trends in the community. While a swimming pool may be something coveted in one area, it may impede sales in another. It also helps to study generalized trends and data from various home improvement industry analysts to guide upcoming projects.

The following outdoor projects are just a few renovations that tend to add value.

Firepit

A fire pit is a great place to gather most months of the year. Bob Vila and CBS news report that a fire pit realizes a 78 percent return on investment or ROI.

Outdoor kitchen

Many buyers are looking to utilize their yards as an extension of interior living areas. Cooking, dining, and even watching TV outdoors are increasingly popular. Outdoor living areas can be custom designed and built. In addition, prefabricated modular units that require a much smaller commitment of time and money are available.

Patio

Homeowners who do not already have a patio will find that adding one can increase a home’s value. Patios help a home look neat, add useable space, and may help a home to sell quickly. The experts at Space Wise, a division of Extra Space Storage, say that refinishing, repairing, and building a new patio offers strong ROI.

Deck

Decks can be as valuable as patios. A deck is another outdoor space that can be used for entertaining, dining, and more. Remodeling magazine’s 2018 “Cost vs. Value” report indicates that an $11,000 deck can add about $9,000 in resale value to the home, recouping around 82 percent of the project’s costs.

Door update

Improve curb appeal with a new, high-end front door and garage doors. If that’s too expensive, a good cleaning and new coat of paint can make an old door look brand new. These easy fixes can improve a home’s look instantly.

New landscaping

The National Association of Realtors says an outdoor makeover that includes well-thought-out landscaping can net 105 percent ROI. Installing a walkway, adding stone planters, mulching, and planting shrubs are ideas to consider.

Many different outdoor projects can add value to a home.

Budget-Friendly Ways to Upgrade a Landscape

An inviting, well-tended landscape can add significant curb appeal to a home. Such a landscape also can serve as a point of pride and welcome homeowners each evening as they arrive home from work.

Landscaping projects run the gamut from simple changes that can be accomplished on a weekend afternoon to more significant and costly undertakings that require the work of a professional. Budget-conscious homeowners may be looking for simpler projects, and the following are some less costly ways to upgrade a landscape.

Add a pop of color with planters. Awe-inspiring colors can make a landscape stand out from surrounding properties. Flowers, bushes and plants may be the first thing homeowners consider when trying to add color to their lawns, but planters can provide a more immediate way to give exterior grounds some color. Bold planters won’t lose their color in a matter of weeks like many flowers do, and homeowners can switch planters so the colors align with the season. For example, some pastel planters can evoke the spirit of spring, while orange planters can be filled with mums to give a landscape an autumnal feel.

Plant perennials around the property. Well-maintained perennials grow back each year, making them ideal for homeowners who don’t have the time or desire to map out new gardening arrangements each spring. Planting perennials also is a great way to add color around the property without breaking the bank.

Upgrade walkways. Though it’s more expensive than adding planters and planting perennials, upgrading old and cracked walkways is a great way to give a property a whole new look. According to the renovation experts at HomeAdvisor, homeowners typically pay between $6 and $12 per square foot for new concrete walkway installation. Homeowners working on a budget can target spots where walkways have already cracked and fix those areas first before continuing the project piecemeal until all the old walkways have been replaced.

Plant to create privacy. Homeowners spent more time at home than ever before during the pandemic, and some might have grown tired of seeing what their neighbors are up to. Fencing might be the first solution homeowners consider when looking to make their landscapes more private. But new fencing installation can be expensive, costing homeowners between $1,667 and $4,075 on average, according to BobVila.com. A more costly and natural solution is to plant trees around the perimeter. Speak with a local landscaping professional, who can survey the property to see which trees might thrive and provide the privacy homeowners want.

Creating an inviting landscape doesn’t have to break the bank. Various small and relatively inexpensive projects can change the look and feel of a home’s exterior.

Keep Groundhogs Out of the Garden

Groundhogs take center stage on February 2nd. Individuals across the country anxiously await the news of whether one of these furry fellows sees his shadow or not – the latter indicating that an early spring is on the horizon.

Once Groundhog Day has come and gone, the humble groundhog regains its status as unwanted intruder.

Groundhogs invade lawns and gardens in search of fruits, vegetables and ornamental plants. Groundhogs also can make extensive burrows under the soil ripping up the landscape and potentially threatening the foundation of a home. Keeping groundhogs at bay is a goal for many homeowners, and the following are some simple ways to do just that.

Make sure it’s a groundhog

Before taking any steps to repel groundhogs, first make sure it’s really these fuzzy critters who are wreaking havoc. Signs of a groundhog infestation include:

· Feathery tops of carrots have been removed.

· A large hole, around 10 to 12 inches wide, under or near a storage shed or other structure with mounds of dirt outside of it.

· Tomatoes with large bites taken out of them.

· Newly damaged plants noticed in the afternoon (deer eat garden plants at night).

· Wide teeth marks on plants and bark.

· Tracks in the dirt that show four-clawed toes on the front paws and five on the back.

Once you’ve determined it’s a groundhog that is causing damage, you can try these strategies to keep them away.

· Harvest your garden frequently to remove opportunities for groundhogs to prey on produce. They’re particularly attracted to cantaloupes, cabbage, green beans, cucumbers, zucchini, and corn. They also like the tender greens from lettuce. Consider using raised garden beds so groundhogs will not have easy access.

· Groundhogs prefer camouflage around their burrows. Mow the lawn, pull weeds and clean up brush piles to deter groundhogs.

· Keep groundhogs from burrowing under structures by burying chicken wire a foot underground and bending it at 90-degree angles away from structures or the garden.

· Apply safe repellents that use essential oils or flavors and scents that groundhogs do not like. Epsom salt is believed to repel groundhogs.

· Call animal control to have a groundhog relocated. Animal trapping professionals can live trap and release a groundhog elsewhere. Don’t try to trap a groundhog yourself, as they can be feisty and bite or scratch if scared.

Groundhogs may be heroes for a day in February, but they quickly take a heel turn when they start to damage yards. Getting groundhogs under control can help.

Safety First With DIY Electrical Work

Home improvement projects can help homeowners transform their homes. Such projects are costly, but many homeowners save money by doing some, if not all, of the work themselves.

The Electrical Safety Foundation International, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting electrical safety, recommends that homeowners leave electrical work to the professionals. Licensed electricians are well-trained, whereas homeowners may not be skilled enough to avoid accidents or injuries, which can prove fatal when working with electricity.

Homeowners who take the do-it-yourself route with electrical work should consider these safety tips, courtesy of the ESFI, before beginning a home electrical project.

Learn your home electrical system. Home electrical systems may include power lines, electric meters, service panels, subpanels, wiring, and more. These systems are complex, and homeowners who intend to do some DIY electrical work should familiarize themselves with their home electrical systems prior to beginning any work. The ESFI notes that knowledge of their home electrical systems can help homeowners more safely navigate them and make maintenance easier.

Honestly assess your skills. An honest assessment of skills is absolutely necessary prior to working on an electrical system. According to the National Safety Council, injuries relating to electrical incidents typically fall into one of four categories: electrical shock, electrocution, falls, and burns. Each of these injuries is significant. For example, electric shock, which occurs when electrical current passes over or through a person’s body, involves burns, abnormal heart rhythm and unconsciousness. Given the potential for serious injury, the ESFI urges homeowners to make an honest assessment of their skills before they begin working on their home’s electrical systems. Little or no experience working with electrical systems should be considered a significant hurdle to any DIY project.

Turn the power off. It’s essential that the power to the circuit that will be worked on be turned off prior to starting any work. This can be accomplished by switching off the circuit breaker in the main service panel. Similarly, when working on appliances or lamps, make sure the products are unplugged prior to working on them.

Do not touch plumbing or gas pipes when doing electrical work. The experts at the Indiana Electric Cooperative note that the risk for electrocution is significant when water comes in contact with electricity. It’s imperative that homeowners do not touch plumbing and gas pipes when performing a DIY electrical project. Professionals know how to work around such pipes while minimizing their risk for electric shock or worse, and homeowners must familiarize themselves with the techniques professionals rely on to stay safe if they intend to begin DIY electrical projects.

Homeowners are best served by leaving electrical work to the professionals. However, those who insist on doing such work themselves should do their homework and get to know their systems and safety protocols prior to beginning a project.

Popular Renovation Projects During the Pandemic

Spending so much time at home during the pandemic led many homeowners to spruce up their homes. According to HomeAdvisor’s 2021 State of Home Spending report, spending on home improvements increased by an average of $745 per household in 2020.

In the face of travel restrictions and social distancing guidelines, many homeowners pivoted in 2020 and spent money they initially intended to use for vacations on home improvements. Though many such projects required the services of a professional contractor, others, including the most popular project among the 5,000 homeowners who participated in the HomeAdvisor report, were do-it-yourself endeavors. That not only gave homeowners’ homes a new look, but also gave them something to do during quarantine. The following are the five most popular home improvement projects of 2020 according to the HomeAdvisor report.

1. Interior painting: Just under 35 percent of participants reported taking on an interior painting project in 2020. Interior painting projects can be perfect for DIYers, but homeowners also can trust this task to skilled professionals.

2. Bathroom renovations: Real estate professionals routinely report how much prospective buyers love updated bathrooms, so it’s no surprise that roughly 31 percent of homeowners who took part in the HomeAdvisor report indicated they renovated their bathrooms in 2020.

3. Flooring: Floors took on a lot of extra traffic during the pandemic, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that flooring projects were popular in 2020. More than one-fourth of participants told HomeAdvisor their homes were updated with a new floor during the pandemic.

4. Landscaping: With nowhere else to go to escape the daily grind in 2020, many homeowners took to their yards. Twenty-four percent of those homeowners reported making their backyard retreats more appealing by repairing or upgrading the landscaping outside their homes. In fact, the average homeowner reported completing 3.4 landscaping projects in 2020.

5. Kitchen: Another project that makes sense given the circumstances, kitchen renovations were the fifth most popular home improvement project in 2020. Restaurant closures and social distancing guidelines led many people to dine in more often than they otherwise would, and just under 23 percent of homeowners reported renovating their kitchens in 2020.

As the world gradually emerges from the pandemic, many homeowners who caught the renovation bug while in quarantine also will be emerging with what feels like an entirely new home.

3 Home Exterior Projects That Combine Beauty and Performance

Will you be completing outdoor home renovation projects this season? To maximize your investment, consider these project ideas, which combine beauty and long-lasting performance:

Smart Landscaping

Landscaping is a fundamental aspect of curb appeal. A beautiful design has the power to boost your home’s resale value. What’s more, certain landscape choices may last longer and can even potentially protect the structure of your home.

Make the smart and environmentally-conscious choice of sticking with native species, which are more likely to thrive and grow a strong root foundation, helping protect your property in the event of flooding. Select fire-resistant plants that can also act as buffers during high winds.

A Complete Roofing System

You don’t have to wait for leaks to appear before you consider a new roof. Missing, damaged or curling shingles are not only an eyesore, they can also be signs of leaks to come. The age of your roof itself can be a guide as to when it’s time to consider an upgrade — homeowner’s insurance companies generally assume an asphalt shingle roof will last about 20 years.

When it comes to beauty and performance, a new roof can be one of the best investments you make for your home, that is if you select durable products that will protect your family for years to come. Homeowners should know that they don’t have to sacrifice style for strength and durability. For example, new Timberline HDZ shingles from GAF, North America’s largest roofing and waterproofing manufacturer, combine the style, class and design of America’s best-selling shingles (Timberline HD with even better protection thanks to a new innovation called LayerLock technology. The technology offers contractors a faster, more precise installation and ultimately, better strength and performance of the roofing shingles.

For greater peace of mind, homeowners should also consider complete roofing systems (shingles and accessories) with a strong warranty. Just be sure to check the fine print, especially if you live in an area with high winds. While many roofing products do come with wind warranties, there are often caveats with regard to wind speed limitations. Timberline HDZ shingles come with an available GAF WindProven limited wind warranty, the first wind warranty for roofing shingles with no maximum wind speed limit. The brand’s shingles that feature LayerLock technology, such as HDZ, qualify for this warranty when installed with four qualifying GAF accessories.

Durable Windows

Today’s high-performance window options can dramatically improve your home’s energy efficiency, provide better sound-proofing and weather resistance, and offer tilt-in capabilities for easier cleaning and maintenance. Some manufacturers offer customization options with regards to grille patterns, window shape, interior and exterior frame colors and glass types, making it easy to find options that complement your home’s style while providing performance features you value.

This season, make smart home upgrades that offer you both greater curb appeal and greater peace of mind.

Tips to Prepare for Your Next Big Home Project

The planning process is one of the most exciting parts of a home renovation project, and with social distancing keeping us indoors, now is the time to dream big and get ready. Whether it’s a basement makeover, a pool addition or even building a new house from scratch, here are some tips to get started:

1. Factor in your lifestyle. Think about your priorities and lifestyle – do you work from home without a proper home office? Do you enjoy cooking and entertaining? Is your backyard living up to its potential as an extension of your home? Asking these kinds of questions can help you determine the most beneficial focus for your next project.

2. Educate yourself. Take advantage of this extra time you have to learn about materials, processes and new innovations. You can make smarter purchasing decisions by finding out the answers to key questions, such as: Is this material mold-resistant? How long will it last? Is this a passing fad or will it stand the test of time?

3. Consider sustainability. Products and materials that reduce your carbon footprint don’t just help the planet —they’re often better for your wallet, too. When doing your research, look for energy-efficient appliances, windows, walls and more to build a greener home that will last longer and save you money in the long run.

4. Disaster-proof your design. The pandemic has taught us that sometimes the worst can happen. From natural disasters to fires and flooding, we need our homes to offer as much protection as possible. Whether you’re planning an extension to your home, pools and spas for your backyard or a custom-built home, insulated concrete forms from Nudura are a smart investment. An eco-friendly alternative to traditional materials like wood, ICFs are disaster resilient, designed to withstand wind, fire, tornados, and more.

5. Budget for smart splurges and savings. Budgeting is one of the most important parts of the planning process because you want to spend your hard-earned money wisely. You’ll want to splurge on items that will boost your property value, like energy-efficient features, creating more living space and a solid foundation. Upcycling and repurposing furniture, DIY-ing simpler projects like painting, and spending more on nicer hardware but less on cabinets are clever ways to save.