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Homeowners liable for snow and ice control

(BPT) - Whenever it snows, it is common to see shopping center employees and business owners out and about clearing pathways, parking spaces and entrances of snow and ice. But this isn’t just good business to help customers get in the door, it is also a liability issue should someone slip, fall and injure themselves. Homeowners, too, face similar, albeit more limited, liability if they fail to take adequate steps to remove such slippery hazards from their property.

Generally speaking, homeowners are responsible for limiting dangers on their property, but in some cases this can also extend to public sidewalks abutting the home. In some localities, Homeowners Associations (HOAs), and governments also require that homeowners clear snow and ice or face fines. A regional survey of county and municipal ordinances conducted by the Salt Institute found that 83 percent have written policies directing property owners to remove accumulated snow and ice "within 24 hours of the end of the snowstorm." Penalties for property owners not complying can range from nominal tickets to misdemeanors punishable by up to 90 days in jail and fines of up to $500.

Shoveling snow is simple enough, but ice is another matter, and nothing works better to remove ice or prevent ice from forming than salt. Salt lowers water’s freezing point, the temperature at which it changes from a liquid to a solid and vice versa. Melting water that is already frozen is called deicing and is applied once ice appears. Preventing water from freezing in the first place is called anti-icing and is applied when a freeze is expected.

Commercially available anti-icing materials include salt (sodium chloride), calcium chloride, magnesium chloride, potassium acetate and calcium magnesium acetate. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, but salt brine remains the best choice for anti-icing in temperatures above 15 degrees F (minus 9.4 degrees C) and continues to work in temperatures as low as minus 6 degrees F. For extremely low temperatures, look for a mixture using calcium or magnesium chloride instead.

Laws regarding snow and ice clearing vary by state and locality, but most mandate that some action be taken within a reasonable time period after it stops snowing. For example, the Illinois Snow and Ice Removal Act states that any owner who "removes or attempts to remove snow or ice from sidewalks abutting the property shall not be liable for any personal injuries allegedly caused by the snowy or icy condition of the sidewalk resulting from his or her acts or omissions unless the alleged misconduct was willful or wanton."

The dangers from slips and falls should not be taken lightly, especially for the elderly. Each year thousands are rushed to emergency rooms as a result of icy falls with injuries that could have easily been prevented. One enterprising hospital, St. Vincent’s in Indianapolis, Indiana, even decided to give away road salt to local residents one winter to try and prevent such injuries and the resulting emergency room visits. In the end, the person who is most likely to slip and fall is the homeowner themselves.



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4 things you might not know about DIY home...

(BPT) - With the holiday season approaching, you may be thinking about giving your family the gift of home security — especially if you know you’ll be traveling over the holidays.

A growing number of homeowners are turning to do-it-yourself smart home security systems to address their security concerns. Installing your own home security system can be well worth the investment; while the average system may cost hundreds of dollars to get started, monthly fees are low, and when a home security system is present, 60 percent of attempted burglaries fail, according to StatisticBrain.

Crime doesn't take a holiday

During the holidays, burglars know many families travel to visit distant loved ones. Plus, homes filled with gifts can be a treasure trove for thieves.

Here are ways DIY home security systems make it easy to keep your smart home safe and secure during the holiday season and throughout the year:

* Affordable and flexible — Professional monitoring of a smart home security system from traditional players and well-known brands can cost nearly $50 a month — and then lock you in for four years or longer. When you're already spending on holiday shopping and celebrations, the extra cost of monitoring can seem daunting. DIY systems typically offer the same components, such as security cameras, motion sensors and smart locks, without the costs and contracts of professional installation. Plus, you can still get affordable 24/7 monitoring; Iris by Lowe’s Professional Monitoring is $14.95 per month.

* Customizable for your needs — DIY home security systems typically offer starter packages that contain the basic components you need to set up a simple system in your home, such as a smart hub and sensors. Once installed, the smart system is scalable, and you can add products or solutions that meet your needs by just shopping at your favorite retailer — no need to call up a security company to come out to your house for an expensive visit. For example, Iris offers a catalog of more than 150 devices that pair with its smart hub, including cameras, motion sensors, locks, light switches, thermostats, smoke alarms and more. Whether you want to secure and monitor a door or window shielded from sight, or you want to turn lights on and off automatically to make your home look occupied while you're out, a smart home security system can do that.

* Mobile monitoring — Being able to monitor your home security system from your smartphone gives added peace of mind, and many DIY systems also provide apps that allow you to remotely control and monitor home systems. Whether you're out shopping and realize you forgot to arm the system, or visiting out-of-state relatives, you can manage your smart home security system as if you were at home.

* Smart home compatible — If you’re already using smart technologies like Google Home or an Amazon Echo smart speaker, these components may work with and even enhance your DIY home security system. Systems allow you to create a fully integrated smart home experience. For example, you can use the smart system’s mobile app to turn on lights and the home security alarm when you’re away from home and control it by voice when you are home.

To learn more about home automation and DIY security systems, visit www.irisbylowes.com.



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Survey: Messy garages stand in the way of...

(BPT) - Americans would love more time to pursue hobbies they’re passionate about, and time-drains like disorganized garages are a big obstacle to doing the activities they enjoy, according to a new survey conducted by Gladiator and Kelton Global.

Eighty-four percent of Americans surveyed would like more time for their passions, and nearly 40 percent said a lack of time was standing in the way, the study found. Instead of partaking in hobbies like adventure sports, arts, reading, music and gardening, Americans are spending more time running errands (41 percent) and even catching up on much-needed rest (44 percent).

Americans’ passions

Hobbies aren’t just for fun in the minds of most Americans, the survey found. In fact, respondents say their passions help them maintain happiness and relieve stress. Fifty-nine percent say engaging in their favorite activities is a stress-reliever for them. What’s more, many feel their hobbies help define who they are; 24 percent of adventure seekers associate their hobbies with their self-identity.

What’s getting in the way

While a lack of time is a significant obstacle to Americans’ pursuit of their passions, it’s not the only one. According to survey respondents, other factors standing in the way include:

* Not having enough money (49 percent)

* Other priorities, such as family (39 percent)

* Work obligations (23 percent)

* Resting (44 percent)

* Cleaning and organizing their home (34 percent)

Sacrificing for passions

When it comes to finding more time to pursue their passions, Americans are willing to go to great lengths. More than a third of the working Americans surveyed leave work early to engage in hobbies, and 27 percent would take a sick day.

Survey respondents say if they could have more time for their hobbies, they also would be willing to:

* Sacrifice an hour of sleep every night for a month (25 percent)

* Give up coffee for a month (25 percent)

* Get a tattoo (15 percent)

* Wear something silly in public (17 percent)

* Spend an extra half hour per day stuck in traffic (11 percent)

* Give up their cell phones for a month (12 percent)

Solutions instead of sacrifice

Many Americans understand disorganization can cut into time they would like to spend on other pursuits, including their hobbies. Of course, the gear, supplies and equipment needed for hobbies like outdoor sports, electronics and arts and crafts often get stored in garages. Getting help with garage organization could free up time for Americans to do the things they really love.

Gladiator recently launched nine new GearTrack(R) Packs designed to make it easier for Americans to organize all the accoutrements that they need to pursue their passions. Building off the original GearTrack(R) Pack, each custom kit features a unique set of hooks, baskets and storage spaces designed to accommodate items for different activities such as gardening, bicycling, basketball, football, baseball, sports bags and golf gear. Visit GladiatorGarageWorks.com to learn more.

Study was conducted by Kelton Global, a leading global insights research firm, between April 12-16, 2017 among 3,127 Americans ages 18+ with a margin of error of +/- 1.8.



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How to avoid cold weather woes

(BPT) - As sweater season knocks on the door, it’s time to prepare for the brisk temperatures ahead. This winter, keep your home, health and well-being top of mind with these simple tips to avoid cold weather woes.

Winterize your porch

Install plexiglass panels to keep the cold weather out, allowing you to host friends and family, protect your furniture from snowfall and minimize spring cleaning. Once winter is over, simply pack up the panels and store them for next season. For those who splurged on flooring, apply a protective finish, such as a water sealer or stain, to ensure excess moisture does not seep through the wood.

Take preventative measures

Oftentimes, frozen pipes can burst throughout the winter, or cause leaks as they begin to thaw in the spring. Keep your home safe from leaks by installing the Delta Water Leak Detector — a device that identifies leaks quickly and alerts homeowners at the onset. Simply place the leak detector near water heaters, appliances, sinks or toilets to detect drips or pooling. For added convenience, connect the device to your cell phone to receive alerts in real time.

Turn it upside down

To warm your home without drastically increasing the gas bill, simply reverse the ceiling fan direction. During the summer months, ceiling fans push air down, naturally lending a cooling effect to those below. By reversing the ceiling fan upward, the cooler air is redirected, keeping you and your family warm beneath.

Cozy up your home

To battle dreary days, stock up on warm essentials, such as flannel bedding, down throw blankets and plush towels. Outfit the common areas with warm fabrics and decorative patterns to keep your home cozy and welcoming during the winter. Finally, consider purchasing comfortable rugs and mats to keep your toes warm on tile and wood floors.



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Winterize your home now for comfort all...

(BPT) - While temperatures across the country are still mild, major snow fall in some parts of the country has given some Americans a bitter taste of what to expect this winter. Depending on where you live, winter may mean cooler, rainy days or lake-effect snow with four feet of the white stuff at your door.

Every fall, homeowners across the country take all the precautionary steps to winterize their homes to protect against burst water pipes as well as improve their overall comfort throughout the colder months. Winterizing your home goes beyond just ensuring snow and chills stay out. Many people assume that winterizing their home is an unnecessary and burdensome task; however, the benefits make it obvious how important it can be. There are other simple steps you can take, but these three will help ensure that your home is adequately prepared for the harsher months ahead.

1. Reduce the risk of water damage — Beyond damage sustained from heavy rainfall, water damage can occur as a result of ice dam formation. Ice dams forming on your roof as well as ground snow melt near vulnerable basement windows can cause significant (and often unseen) damage to your home, which can result in costly repairs. Replacing traditional attic insulation with open-cell spray foam insulation can help mitigate air loss through your home’s roof, thereby reducing the risk of ice dams forming while also helping to keep all that expensively conditioned air inside your home, keeping you and your family comfortable. Closed-cell spray foam insulation installed in basements can help play a role in reducing the risk of water entering your home. FEMA has identified this insulation as a flood-resistant material.

2. Reducing the prevalence of drafts — Cold spots and drafts throughout your home can literally make you shudder. It is estimated by the Air Barrier Association of America (ABAA) that all the gaps and cracks throughout the typical 2,500-square-foot American home can equate to more than half a mile. Sealing your home’s tiny cracks and crevices with spray foam insulation can help reduce the possibility of drafts inside your home.

3. Address potential problems before they develop — The cold winter weather can often play a role in creating problems that you did not know existed around your home. Colder temperatures and increased precipitation play into why the elements are harsher on a house. Cleaning eavestroughs, ensuring the seals around windows and doors are intact, upgrading your traditional insulation to spray foam insulation and getting your HVAC unit serviced are all actions that can help to prepare your home for the upcoming winter.

Insulation can play an important role in winterizing your home, allowing you and your family to remain comfortable throughout the entire winter.

Spray foam insulation like that available from Icynene works well in all climates to seal the building and fill gaps to stop air leakage and reduce the strain on HVAC equipment. As a solution that performs effectively year-round, spray foam insulation helps maintain a comfortable temperature while controlling monthly heating and cooling expenses.

Additionally, spray foam insulation helps minimize random airborne moisture and pollutants from entering the home, ideal for anyone suffering from seasonal allergies once the snow has melted and spring arrives. More information is available online at www.icynene.com.



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5 DIY home upgrades anyone can do in a day

(BPT) - (BPT) - Do-it-yourself home projects are sweeping the nation, and it’s easy to see why. DIY is typically budget-friendly and fulfilling to complete; simply find the right project to match your skill set and needs.

To get started, here are five inexpensive projects that can by tackled by any DIYer, each of which will have an impact on the entire home.

* Make a hardware swap. Replacing your kitchen cabinets changes the entire look of your kitchen — but it’s expensive and requires considerable skill. For a simpler, smaller project that can still have a big impact, replace the hardware on your cabinets instead. Select the hardware type first — knobs for doors and pulls for drawers, for example — then move on to style. Crisp, sleek hardware goes best with a modern kitchen, while more detailed offerings work well with classic, traditional kitchens.

* Refresh your space with a fresh coat of paint. Repainting a wall or room is the perfect way to showcase your style, without breaking the bank. The Unity palette from Sherwin-Williams® 2018 Colormix Forecast offers unique color choices that pair together perfectly, making it easy for homeowners to create a cohesive look in their space. Try going bold with pops of peacock on an accent wall, such as Sherwin-Williams 2018 Color of the Year, Oceanside SW 6496, or you use the palette’s grounded browns to put a new spin on traditional hues. It’s easy to recreate a space that reflects who you are, without making expensive renovations.

* Illuminate a simple change. It doesn’t always take a huge change to reinvent a room; it can be as easy as changing the light fixture. You could choose to repaint your existing chandelier, or you could give your ceiling fan a new look by replacing the blades. If you’re on the crafty side, try making your own shade for an existing lamp with some of your favorite fabric.

* Invite people to your gallery. Can’t decide on the one perfect image for your wall? Then why not go for several? Gallery walls are a great way to show your favorite prints and photos artistically. Pick the wall and apply a fresh coat of paint before building your gallery — after all, this wall will now be part of the exhibit. Once the wall is ready, pick your photos or prints and set them in frames you love. Now the fun part lay your works of art on an open floor space and rearrange them until you find the perfect layout. Once you’ve found it, grab your hammer and nails and bring your gallery wall to life.

* Bring a new vibe to your existing furniture. If a chair or love seat is starting to show its age, reupholstering it is a great way to give the piece fresh life. Remove the current fabric and replace it with new fabric of your choosing. Apply staples or stitching to hold the new fabric in place, and that old piece of furniture will have a distinctive new look.



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Desperate deer turn winter into the most...

(BPT) - Deer can cause major damage to yards in any season, but in winter they can be downright deadly to some of the most expensive backyard landscape plants. When regular foods like leaves, grass and annuals become scarce, deer turn their attention to woody plants, shrubs and trees that stay green in winter, like rhododendron, arborvitaes, yew, holly, and those that lose their leaves, like oak, willow and dogwood trees. Deer will tear away at the lower leaves and branches of these shrubs and trees, which won’t grow back evenly and may be permanently damaged, in need of replacement, come springtime.

Arborvitaes and other landscape shrubs and trees can take years to grow to maturity. They’re also the foundation of your backyard’s beauty. Deer damage in winter can add up to a big budget-busting bill to replace plants, not to mention negatively affecting the beautiful aesthetics of your yard and garden.

Because food is scarce, and high deer populations mean more competition for food, deer are likely to be more resistant to efforts to evacuate them. They’ll return to areas where they found plentiful pickings in warm weather, and be more inclined to stay put until an area is stripped clean of all possible food sources. A single adult deer eats about 12 pounds of foliage a day and does usually occupy the same 3- to 4-square-mile area for their entire lives. During her lifetime, a doe will procreate every year, having as many as two or three fawns at a time. If you’ve had deer in your yard before, it is more than likely your yard is on their list to forage and is at risk this winter.

Deterring deer

Homeowners need to be proactive and prevent deer damage during winter. No one wants to be faced with the expense of replacing deer-damaged shrubs or trees.

Fencing can be effective if the fence is higher than deer can jump (at least 8 feet), but many suburban areas limit fence heights. Even if your neighborhood allows a high fence, building one is expensive and can be unsightly.

Some homeowners turn to a range of “home remedies” intended to be harmless to deer, people and pets. However, remedies like pepper spray, soap or predator urine may be harmless but rarely deliver reliable results for deterring deer. Commercial repellents may not have been third-party tested for efficacy, or they rely on harsh chemicals that may be harmful to the environment, pets and other landscape plants. To be most effective in winter, when deer are desperate, repellents should be applied in fall, and continually reapplied as needed, throughout the cold months. Using a repellent all year, conditioning deer to skip your yard, is always your best bet.

A better repellent solution

The Connecticut Department of Forestry tested deer repellents (including Bobbex, Hinder, Liquid Fence, Chew-Not, Big Game, Deer Off, Plantskydd, coyote urine) and concluded Bobbex Deer Repellent is 93 percent effective in repelling deer, only second to a physical barrier. Bobbex is a topical, all-natural foliar spray which prevents deer, moose and elk from browsing and damaging ornamental plantings, shrubs and trees.

Bobbex’s active ingredients are a series of proteins that make the product safe for the environment and for use on even the most sensitive foliage. Active ingredients include; putrescent eggs, garlic, fish oil, meat meal, clove oil, and other natural, safe ingredients. The product mimics predator scents that deer have an aversion to and is classified as a fear repellent, but it also tastes bad, adding another layer of protection for plants. Because it contains effective sticking agents, the repellent won’t wash off, even in harsh winter weather.

Left undeterred, deer can strip bare your landscape’s most expensive and susceptible plantings, leaving you with an unattractive yard and high repair bills when warm weather arrives. Taking preventive steps can help ensure deer learn to leave your yard alone throughout the winter, and with continued use, keep them at bay, all year long.



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Essential maintenance tasks to keep a clean...

(BPT) - Today’s typical family home is a buzzing hub of activity where meals are cooked, homework is done and family game nights are contested. In the background of it all: the home appliances that keep home life moving along. Focusing on a few maintenance tasks can keep home appliances performing efficiently and effectively.

Maintain tools

Keep appliances and cleaning tools running well so they continue to get the job done. Replace vacuum belts periodically to keep your vacuum cleaner running like new, and swap out lawn mowers’ spark plugs once a year to ensure the mower is easy to start. Stock up on extra batteries for cordless vacuums, leaf blowers or other lawn equipment used frequently.

Focus on filtration

Replace vacuum cleaners’ accessories often for best performance. Bags need to be replaced every one to two months, while a new filter is needed every three to six months. A full vacuum bag or clogged filter can inhibit the vacuum’s effectiveness, reducing suction and leaving allergens and dust behind. Washable filters should be replaced too, as they may begin to lose effectiveness after a couple of washes.

For great vacuum performance, use Arm & Hammer vacuum bags and filters to capture allergens, dust and pet hair from surfaces. The bags and filters also safely and naturally absorb offensive smells through the odor-fighting power of baking soda.

In addition to vacuum filters, make sure to replace HVAC filters. Furnaces and central air conditioners run more efficiently and provide higher quality air filtration with clean filters. Change filters frequently to keep home heating and cooling at a high level.

Clean appliances

While every appliance has a unique way to clean it, they all have one rule in common: Never, ever let spills or splatters linger. Whether it’s on the stove, in the microwave or in the refrigerator, the longer deposits remain, the harder they are to clean. Keeping these appliances clean will mean that a deeper scrubbing is only needed once in a while.

* Refrigerators – Twice a year, pull out the refrigerator to clean behind and under it. Mop the floor and use a vacuum to remove dust from the coils in back. This will decrease the stress put on the motor and can prolong the life of the refrigerator. Use soapy water to clean shelves, and a damp cloth to remove fingerprints from the front or sides.

* Dishwashers – About once a month, check and clean the drain and wipe down the door seals and spray arm.

* Oven – Embrace the self-cleaning option on the oven to do the heavy lifting whenever it’s needed. Wipe down the inside of the door and creases to ensure there aren’t crumbs accumulating. Soak burners, knobs, racks and hood vents twice a year to keep them free of grime.

* Microwave – Clean the rotating microwave plate weekly in the dishwasher. When needed, put a bowl of water with lemons in the microwave and run it for three minutes, then let stand for five minutes before wiping down the inside.

* Washing machine – Always wipe out the machine to ensure there is no water left sitting in it. For a deeper clean, run the washer with bleach in the dispenser, pause the machine and let the bleach mixture settle for an hour, then complete the cycle before wiping it out.

* Coffee maker – Hand wash the filter tray, exposed areas and crevices weekly, and run water with a bit of vinegar through — without coffee — to clean the inner mechanisms.

* Safety first

Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are in the home to keep families safe — but they need new batteries to ensure equipment is working as it should. Every six months, change the batteries in all smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms, and make sure fire extinguishers are still in place and not expired.

There is a range of Arm & Hammer bag and filter styles made to fit nearly all brands and models of vacuum cleaners, sold at Wal-Mart stores and www.walmart.com.



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Increase kitchen efficiency with ease

(BPT) - As the holiday season approaches and the calendar begins to populate, it’s important not to allow the stress of entertaining large groups to become a burden. Below are four tips to help organize a kitchen and host with ease, creating a functional space for family and friends to enjoy.

Plan in advance

Set aside time early in the week to plan the menu, from simple appetizers to the main entree. Grocery shopping apps, like AnyList, allow the whole family to share and build lists together — which can help avoid any last-minute trips to the grocery store. Also, try to identify dishes that can be prepared in advance so more time can be spent away from the kitchen when guests arrive.

Maximize storage and counter space

Optimize counter space by designing small stations for easy access to the necessities. A coffee bar “nook” complete with Keurig cups and mugs can help kick-start a busy day. Storage near the fridge should be stocked with foil and containers, ideal for packing up leftovers after a large party. Reserve the island counter for meal prep and the cabinets below for serving ware and glassware storage.

Keep all staples in arm's reach

Cooking can be made simple by organizing the essentials. Keep similar tools together, such as bakeware and cookie sheets in one drawer, and pantry staples in another. Spices and herbs should be alphabetized and stored near the stovetop to effortlessly add flavor. For those with design in mind, opt for open shelves to showcase dishes and small kitchen accessories, such as succulents and cookbooks, while keeping everything within reach.

Simplify kitchen cleanup

Cleaning is often the most time-intensive chore in the kitchen, but if designed right, can be a breeze for home entertainers and kids alike. The Delta Foundry Kitchen Faucet complete with ShieldSpray Technology, available at the Home Depot, offers laser-like precision to contain splatter, meaning less soaking, scrubbing and shirt swapping.



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The sound of silence: How to design a quiet...

(BPT) - In today’s increasingly digital world, it’s no surprise that more employees are opting to work from home. While there may be a shift of physical locations — from the office building to the home — productivity is still paramount, making the need for quiet home workspaces more important than ever.

“As urbanization continues, builders and developers are focused on optimizing available land, which results in more homes, apartments and condos built near highways and airports,” says Mark Montgomery, vice president of marketing for leading window manufacturer Ply Gem Windows. “The convergence of telecommuting and higher noise levels means there’s a growing need to enhance homeowner comfort with noise reduction technology.”

If your workspace needs a sound makeover, consider the following tips. For even more information on home improvement solutions, check out websites like www.plygem.com.

Think from the outside in

Everyday sounds like traffic, trains, leaf blowers, music, barking dogs or car alarms may go unnoticed on the weekends, but can easily interrupt conference calls and concentration during the busy workweek.

To cut down on outside noise, look for windows with Sound Transmission Class (STC) rating. A typical single hung window unit without sound control glass has an average STC rating of 27. Sound control glass packages, on window lines like Ply Gem’s 1500 Brickmould Vinyl Collection, have ratings of up to STC 35. This reduces outside noise by approximately 40 percent when compared to single hung window units with no protection.

“STC glass packages may not be necessary for every window in the home, but should be considered for the rooms where the reduction of unwanted noise is most important — like the home office and bedrooms,” advises Montgomery.

As an added bonus, according to the Department of Energy, new windows will boost curb appeal, reduce maintenance and can significantly improve your home’s energy efficiency.

Insulate the interior … and the exterior

If your home office space shares a paper-thin wall with, for instance, a loud family room television, adding batt wall insulation for new homes, or blown-in insulation for existing homes, will help blanket sounds and temper vibrations.

For homes that face busy roadways, insulated vinyl siding is another solution. Look for options made with a premium, recycled-content vinyl siding panel permanently bonded with polystyrene (EPS) foam insulation. This wraps the home with continuous insulation to cover the entire exterior envelope — including wall studs where air and sound can penetrate.

Another quick fix for insulating the home office is to install a solid core wood or molded interior door. Many standard interior doors are hollow, which means that sounds pass through more easily. Solid core doors, which are thicker than hollow doors, act as a noise blocker. Once installed, make sure to surround the door with weather-stripping to fill any holes or gaps.

By keeping these tips in mind, you’ll be well on your way to creating a quiet home office retreat and defending your workspace from unwanted interruptions.



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4 reasons why a real estate franchise might be...

(BPT) - Small business has always been the backbone of the American economy, and today's entrepreneurs are as diverse as American culture itself. Entrepreneurship takes many forms, from freelancers and independent contractors to sole proprietors. In fact, just one form of entrepreneurship — franchises — employs 8 million people and accounts for 40 percent of all retail sales, according to the Small Business Administration.

Franchise operations come in many forms, from chain restaurants and retail stores to home services providers and real estate brokerages. In fact, the real estate franchise industry is a $25 billion marketplace and more than 55,000 Americans are employed as franchise owners, according to market research firm IBISWorld.

“Many real estate brokers have been making great livings as small business owners for a very long time,” says Adam Contos, co-CEO of RE/MAX LLC. “As franchise entrepreneurship continues to grow, we expect opportunities in real estate franchises to grow, too.”

Contos points to four reasons why a real estate franchise has always been, and continues to be, a great career option:

1. You can be your own boss.

The ability to work for oneself attracts many people to owning a small business. A real estate franchise allows you to nurture your entrepreneurial spirit. Franchisees get to set their own objectives and make business decisions about everything from where they’ll work (at home or in an office) to how they’ll market their business.

2. You can work for yourself but not by yourself.

Franchisors typically provide training, assistance and marketing support to franchisees. For example, billions of dollars have been spent promoting the RE/MAX brand with tools like property signs and outdoor advertising, TV, print and social media, and they are helping franchisees with professionally designed marketing materials, PR support, hands-on coaching and recruiting resources.

3. You don’t have to move for work — unless you want to.

Real estate agents usually specialize in an area that’s close to their own home. It’s easy to find opportunities in your own backyard, especially if you sign on with a franchisor that has numerous offices across the country. Living in the communities where you find business also allows you to develop a level of expertise about an area that can better serve both home buyers and sellers.

4. Your local business can have a global presence.

When your franchise is connected to a well-known brand like RE/MAX, your bread-and-butter business may be local but the brand’s name recognition can have global reach. By franchising with that brand, you can lean on its reputation, and that can open up opportunities beyond your local business.

To learn more about real estate franchise opportunities, visit www.remax-franchise.com.



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The savvy homeowner's 5-point outdoor...

(BPT) - As temperatures drop, you're reminded that Old Man Winter will soon rear his ugly head. Before the first flurries fly, it's important to take some winterization steps to ensure your home is ready for whatever the season brings.

This five-point checklist will help safeguard your home against winter's woes for another year. For additional winterization ideas and detailed project plans, visit Real Cedar.com.

Inspect windows

Inspect each window from the outside to see if any gaps or cracks are present. These small openings let in cold air and are also inviting to small critters looking for protection from the cold.

If you find some gaps, it’s important to seal them quickly. Apply caulk to the openings to prevent cold air from seeping in, helping to cut down on heating bills. Plus, you won’t have to worry about bugs making your home their hibernation haven. Note: never caulk above or below the window and door openings, as this may block moisture drainage.

Prep the deck

The amount of work you have to put into winterizing your deck depends on your decking material. For example, a durable, long-lasting material such as Western Red Cedar requires the least amount of maintenance. That said, all decks require some upkeep.

To preserve your deck’s luster, start by cleaning it with a warm, soapy solution and a soft-bristle brush. Do not power wash as this can damage the wood. It’s important that you remove all dirt and debris from the surface as well as in between the boards to improve ventilation.

Next, inspect the deck for mold. If present, wash the deck with a mild oxygen bleach solution and leave on the surface for 30 minutes before rinsing thoroughly. Finally, remove anything that might leave marks on the deck’s surface such as furniture, planters and mats.

Protect planter boxes

The majority of planter boxes are made with Western Red Cedar. That’s because the wood is naturally resistant to rot, decay and insects; and therefore, doesn’t require treatment from potentially dangerous chemicals that can leach into soil and plants. But like all garden beds, real cedar planters need protection during the winter months.

Start by removing all soil and cleaning the boxes as you did the deck. Then, if possible, store emptied planters in a garage, shed or under the porch. If you don't have the space to store them this way, then cover them with a water-repellent tarp to protect from moisture buildup, but don’t seal the tarp. As with decks, it’s very important that you allow for proper ventilation.

Trim trees

Look for weak trees or those with dead branches, particularly those near your home. As snow accumulates, the weight may bring down a tree or branches, potentially damaging your house.

Eliminate this risk by removing any dead trees or dangerous branches now before the first snow. Be safe by using the proper equipment for tree trimming and removal, or, consider hiring a pro to do so. Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and handling this issue now could prevent costly damage to your home down the road.

Clean the roof

Your roof is a large portion of your home, and it also holds a lot of snow over the winter. To prevent ice dams and other roof problems when freezing temperatures arrive, it's important to clean gutters and check your roof for problems now.

Start by taking all debris out of gutters to ensure free flow for water. Next, walk around your roof and inspect it for any damage. Repair loose shingles and make sure the chimney and vents look intact and secure. Your roof takes on a lot of weight from ice and snow during the winter months and you want it to be as strong as possible.

A few simple steps now can mean a cozy, safe winter for you and your entire family. Add these five steps to your winterization to-do list for this weekend and give yourself valuable peace of mind.



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America's finest: 6 luxury home improvement...

(BPT) - Peruse any home improvement media and you may get the impression you just can’t build, renovate or decorate a quality home without relying on foreign-made products like granite from Italy for countertops, cherry hardwood flooring from Brazil or textiles from India. However, you don’t have to sacrifice quality and luxury in order to buy American for your home; some of the finest home decor products originate right here in the U.S.

Here are six of America’s finest domestically made products for the home:

ANN SACKS — Every tile in the company’s 14 MADE by ANN SACKS collections is handcrafted and produced in its Portland, Oregon, headquarters. Founded in 1981 by Ann Sacks, the company’s tile and stone products in unique patterns, shapes, sizes and glazes are favorites of homeowners and interior designers seeking top-quality luxury and beauty for their home designs. In addition to a repertoire of standard tiles, the company also has partnered with famous designers to create innovative luxury lines. They even create custom designs to help homeowners achieve a truly one-of-kind look in their homes.

The company is also a pioneer in another aspect of American culture: the focus on sustainable business practices. The company recycles all excess raw clay, uses only lead-free glazes, filters production waste water and uses only recycled and recyclable packaging for shipping products.

Stickley — Founded in 1900 by the Stickley brothers, the luxury furniture brand continues to conduct all its manufacturing in its Manlius, New York, factory. Their furniture is known for its beautiful wood construction, durability and meticulous attention to details.

Robern — Rooted in the belief that “your everyday routine should never feel ordinary,” Robern has been making innovative medicine cabinets, bathroom mirrors, vanities and lighting since 1968. From smart medicine cabinets with features like touch-dimmable task lighting, magnetic storage and integrated USB outlets to wall mirrors with lights, audio and defogging capabilities, all products are still made in Bristol, Pennsylvania.

Bloomsburg Carpet — Founded in 1976 to produce quality, luxurious carpet, Bloomsburg Carpet weaves all its carpets in Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna Valley. Third-generation weavers produce Axminster, Velvet and Wilton carpets under one roof. The company weaves with raw, sustainable fibers that it describes as “ecologically friendly and readily renewable.”

Viking — Founded in 1987, Viking produces professional-quality ranges and refrigerators at four manufacturing facilities in Leflore County, Mississippi. The company’s products are favorites of both professionals and home chefs.

Thomasville Bedding Company — The company that began over 40 years ago in a one-room building now occupies 36,000 square feet of factory and showroom space in Thomasville, Georgia. In addition to offering a wide selection of mattress styles, the company is also one of the few remaining bedding makers who will manufacture a custom set to fit any size bed.

You don’t have to sacrifice the pride of buying American to find the luxury, quality and customization you desire for your home decor. Purchasing quality American-made products is an investment that can deliver high returns in beauty, durability and satisfaction.



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Home improvement insight: 5 tips to redesign...

(BPT) - Smart homeowners take a strategic approach to home improvement projects such as redoing a playroom, living room or bedroom to keep kids' safety in mind during the redesign process.

By being proactive today, you can ensure your entire family can safely enjoy the results of your home improvement project. Here are the top five things to keep in mind to create a stunning yet safe space for your family:

Window coverings

Corded window coverings are a Top 5 Hidden Hazard in American homes, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Dangling or accessible cords on window coverings can pose an accidental strangulation hazard to infants and young children. The Window Covering Safety Council recommends only cordless window coverings or window coverings with inaccessible cords be used in homes with small kids.

Consumers can easily identify products best suited for homes with young children by looking for the Best for Kids certification label on the packaging of a large variety of products. Window covering products that qualify for “Best for Kids” either have no cords or inaccessible cords. In order to be eligible for this certification, manufacturers must submit their products for third-party testing to determine if they meet the Best for Kids program criteria. (See windowcoverings.org for additional information.)

Electrical

Electrical updates should always be made with curious kids in mind. It's easy to update outlet covers to sliding plug options. With these you never have to worry about replacing the outlet plug again because it closes automatically when not in use.

Larger electrical enhancements can help as well. Streamline the aesthetic of your space while eliminating cords by updating wall lighting. For example, a few sconces might replace reading lights, plus they're high enough to keep out of reach of young kids. Another example: a new dimmable ceiling fan provides safe air circulation with customizable light output.

Smart home upgrades

Technology is a home improvement game-changer that can make spaces more livable and safe. Smart window and door locks can be installed throughout the home. Kids can now securely enter without a key and parents are sent an alert at that time. You can also set alerts for windows left open so you know to close them to reduce fall risks.

Another smart home improvement to consider: motion-activated sensors. These sensors can be placed anywhere you don't want children to be. For example, when your child opens the front door before you wake or he tries to get into the medicine cabinet, you're sent an alert to your phone that makes you immediately aware of the activity.

Furniture and decor

That vintage armor will look perfect in your just-redone space ... until your kids start to pull out the drawers and roughhouse around it. Tip-overs are another Top 5 Hidden Hazard by the CPSC, which notes in the U.S. a child is sent to the emergency room every 30 minutes as a result of falling furniture.

Furniture, TVs and appliances can tip over and crush children, so take an extra step to keep kids safe. Always stabilize furniture, decor and any other items that could fall over. Safety anchors and brackets are widely available online and at retail home improvement stores. They are quick and easy to install and may save a life. (See www.anchorit.gov for additional information.)

Interior paint

Painting a room is one of the most affordable yet dramatic ways to refresh a space. However, not all paint is created equal. To maintain high indoor air quality and a safe area for curious kids, be a selective shopper with interior paint.

Before you select your hue, research paints that are appropriate for children. Look for zero-VOC (volatile organic compound) labels and environmentally friendly options. When in doubt, ask at the paint counter which paints are best for sensitive family members.

You'll love your updated home even more when you can trust it is safe for you and your children. With these simple tips you can create a space that is secure, stylish and safe for all.



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5 myths about solar panels, debunked

(BPT) - Home solar panels can drastically cut or even eliminate electricity bills, reduce a home’s carbon footprint, increase resale value, and may even help a home sell faster.

The cost of rooftop solar systems has fallen dramatically in recent years, and most homeowners have the option of buying the system, leasing it on reasonable payment terms, or having a third-party pay for and install the system at no up-front cost at all for the homeowner. Plus, home solar systems are eligible for federal tax credits.

All of this explains why the number of homeowners installing solar has sky-rocketed across America. Nevertheless, many homeowners remain skeptical about taking control of their energy use and installing solar. Why? The various myths that still persist around solar power could be the reason.

“Solar technology has been around for a long time, but even though it’s entered the mainstream, many homeowners are still skeptical,” says renewable energy expert Roger Ballentine, president of Green Strategies, a leading Washington-based consulting firm. “That’s because a number of myths persist, pointing to the need for better consumer education about the benefits of home solar installations.”

Ballentine points to private and government studies providing real information that debunks the myths surrounding solar power. For example, research by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found solar panels help homes sell faster and for more money than those without solar.

If you’re considering installing a solar panel system on your home, here are five common myths — and why you shouldn’t believe them:

Myth 1: Solar panels only work if you live in a warm, sunny climate.

While solar panels work best when they get a lot of sun, a lack of bright sun doesn’t mean they’re not working. Panels can still absorb ambient sunlight, even on cloudy days or in regions that get less bright sun. What’s more, today’s solar panels are more energy efficient than ever. Newer systems like the “LG NeOn R” maximize sunlight absorption and generate the maximum possible output — as much as 26 percent more than other comparably sized solar panels. This higher efficiency means that solar panels can work in virtually any climate and every season.

Myth 2: You need a lot of roof space for solar panels.

Just like other amazing technologies (think microchips), solar panels are getting smaller, more powerful and more efficient. High-efficiency panels take up less space because fewer panels are required to produce the electricity needed to power your home. So even a smaller home could have enough roof space to fit the number of panels needed to generate the necessary power and save you money.

Myth 3: Installation is a long, drawn-out hassle.

While adding solar panels to your home isn’t a DIY project, installation usually takes only a day or two. New models streamline the process further, eliminating the need to install a separate inverter. Most solar panels require a separate inverter to bring electricity into your house, but new panels from LG, for instance, incorporate the inverter, simplifying and accelerating the installation process.

Myth 4: If something goes wrong, you’re on your own.

As with any major investment in your home, you should make sure you understand the manufacturer and installer warranties for your solar panels, including how long the coverage lasts and what types of problems are covered. One leading solar player, LG, even offers an industry-leading, 25-year product and power warranty. And unlike a furnace or an air conditioning system, a solar installation has no moving parts to wear out and typically requires little maintenance and repair.

Myth 5: Solar panels will look big, bulky and ugly on your roof.

Solar panels are becoming smaller, sleeker and more aesthetically pleasing. Higher-efficiency models are also offering increased flexibility of configuration. Instead of having to cover an entire roof with panels in a specific arrangement in order to generate power, modern options allow you to arrange panels to meet your sense of aesthetics.

Adding solar power to a home offers homeowners many benefits, from reducing energy costs, to increasing the value of your home and helping the environment, Ballentine says. “Overall, it’s a decision most homeowners feel positively about once they’ve made it.” The NREL notes in its study: “Buyers of homes with (solar panel) systems are more satisfied than are comparison buyers. A significantly higher percentage ... indicate they would buy the same houses again.”



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Upping your laundry room's wow factor

(BPT) - Doing the laundry is no longer relegated to dark, musty basements where no one cares to go. Thanks to modern technology, great design and access to innovative ideas online, laundry rooms have moved upstairs and come into their own. In fact, laundry rooms today are right up there with dream kitchens and dream bathrooms — and the more style, function and “wow factor,” the better.

“Laundry rooms are no longer just utilitarian,” said Anitra Mecadon, TV personality and award-winning interior designer. “People want stylish, healthy environments where they can relax, multitask and have some fun while doing the laundry.”

Below are four ways Mecadon recommends to ramp up the wow factor, function and allure of your laundry room:

* High-tech appliances

When looking for washers and dryers today, there are more features than you can imagine. You should consider your needs and desires before starting your search — and we’re talking about more than gas or electric, front- or top-loading, color, budget and space parameters. Today’s “smart” appliances offer custom wash cycles, wrinkle removal, steam cleaning, less noise, delayed start times, moisture sensors with allergen and sanitize cycles and more. There’s even a machine that washes two separate loads with different setting options at the same time. And nearly every machine today is Energy Star-certified for energy efficiency.

* Loads of style

Laundry rooms today can be decorated to complement other rooms in your home — and Pinterest and Houzz offer loads of pictures online to spark your creativity. Laundry rooms can be country French to modern, whimsical to multifunctional — and it’s not unusual to see them in bold or soothing colors, with comfy chairs, statement lighting, flat-screen TVs and docking stations to play music or charge tablets and phones. They also can include windows to let in natural light. If you think white and stainless are your only color options, think again. They can be turquoise, burnt orange, glacial blue, fire engine red, kelly green and even black stainless.

* Function galore

Washing and drying are only part of doing the laundry. There’s sorting, folding, hanging and ironing — and each of those steps needs its own space, supplies and storage. Baskets for sorting and carrying laundry can be wicker, plastic or wood and stored for all to see or out of sight. Counters for folding can be granite, marble, quartz, butcher block or laminate, and many people put them over their washers and dryers as well as around the room. Drying racks made of ladders or upcycled cribs can be creative and functional. Ironing boards can be stand-alone, foldable and stored in cabinets or retractable and out of sight. Washers and dryers can be big or small, stacked or all in one — and even put on pedestals.

* High-performance drywall

When laundry was relegated to the basement, part of the dread of doing laundry was the thought of being surrounded by dampness, mold and mildew — sometimes from washing machine water hose failure causing mold to grow within the wall cavity. Because your washer and dryer introduce water, moisture and heat into the room, it’s important to use drywall with extra protection for your laundry room walls and ceilings — such as moisture-, mold- and mildew-resistant PURPLE XP drywall by National Gypsum. PURPLE XP — which stands for "Xtra Protection" — products are GREENGUARD Gold Certified for indoor air quality, while aiding in the creation of healthier indoor environments.

“I love that prettier and more functional laundry rooms are becoming places people want to hang out and do laundry, but it’s important to think about what’s behind all that style and function — and that’s their walls,” said Mecadon. “Walls and what they’re made of are important and they’re not all the same.”

For more information, go to www.AskForPurple.com.



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Quick tips to prepare your home for holiday guests

(BPT) - As the holidays approach, the decorator in us gets excited about how to deck the halls and drape the tinsel to create a festive home for the season. Social media is full of inspiration, but before you embark on decorating projects, the following are a few easy ideas to ensure your home is as functional and welcoming as it is festive for family and friends.

'Tis the season to repair, repaint, refresh

A pristine paint job is the perfect backdrop for holiday entertaining. Throughout the year, the walls of your home take a lot of abuse, from kids banging their toys into the corners and chairs hitting the walls, to the nail holes and cracks that appear over time. To restore your walls to their former glory, fill in those dents, holes and cracks before you repaint with ALEX Plus Spackling, which delivers professional strength and durability when making repairs on a range of surfaces such as drywall, wood and metal. If you have troublesome reoccurring cracks that just won’t go away, ALEX Flex Spackling is the perfect solution for a lasting, seamless repair. And for the ultimate professional finish, use ALEX Flex Premium Molding & Trim Sealant to fill gaps and cracks around interior window and door frames and along baseboards, chair rails and crown molding for a crack-proof, seamless finish. With your walls repaired and looking like new, you’re now ready to paint and decorate for a fresh, updated look.

Create a safe, cozy area for fireside chats

A warm, roaring fire is a cozy centerpiece for after-dinner storytelling and catching up with family and friends. Whether your home is equipped with a gas or wood-burning fireplace, it is important to ensure the unit is in good working order. First, inspect the area and repair any damage to key pieces, such as the baffle, damper or mantle, that may have occurred during the year. Next, schedule a time for a thorough chimney sweeping to remove excess buildup of soot and creosote. A clean, maintained fireplace not only makes for a festive environment, but can also serve as an element to heat your home, reducing seasonal stress on your furnace.

Corral guest clutter in your main living areas

There’s nothing like visiting with old friends or reconnecting with family members you haven’t seen in a while. Of course, with the increased foot traffic in and out of your home comes the question of where to put your guests' belongings so they are out of the way and organized. If you have a coat closet, be sure to clean it out and make room for your guests by storing your coats in another room. You might also consider using an additional coat rack and strategically placing some festive decorative baskets for holding shoes and purses.

Create a kid-friendly space

If you plan on hosting friends and family members who have small children, take some time to kid-proof your home, particularly anywhere they are likely to play. Along with putting plug covers on all of the outlets, remove any common hazards young kids might get into. Secure electrical and window treatment cords, protect hard-edged furniture and put breakables out of reach. Once the groundwork for a safe, kid-friendly space is cleared, add toys, games, comfy pillows and more, so they’re entertained and feel welcome.

Prepare the outdoors, too

When it comes to prepping for holiday guests, don’t forget about high-traffic areas outside the home. Be sure to clear the walkways of any snow and ice and replace outdoor lights with fresh bulbs to help guests safely navigate their way to your home.

These quick and easy preparations will help you and your guests feel more at home, setting the stage for all to enjoy the festivities and fun of the season.



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Easy winter weatherproofing: Keep the chill out...

(BPT) - Households heating with natural gas, which is almost half of U.S. homes, are expected to spend an average of $635 on heating this winter — 22 percent more than last winter, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration — but some easy seasonal maintenance tips can make a big difference.

“There are several simple, inexpensive ways consumers can save money on utility bills this winter, and still stay warm and comfortable as temperatures begin to drop,” said Jill Murphy, a home heating and energy efficiency expert with Lennox Industries. “By taking the initiative to weatherproof their home before the start of the cold-weather season, homeowners will be able to enjoy a warmer and more energy-efficient house.”

To help consumers combat high utility bills and achieve optimum indoor comfort this winter, Murphy and Lennox suggest a few easy tips for staying safe, dry and comfortable as the cold comes:

The attic. The attic is one of the biggest culprits when it comes to heat loss. Without adequate attic insulation, your heating system will have to work harder and will be less effective as it tries to maintain a warm temperature in the home. Statistics show that older homes, especially those built before 1980, often don’t have enough insulation.

Windows and doors. Air leaks caused by cracks or holes around windows and doors can enable warm indoor air to escape and cold outside air to seep in, preventing you from maintaining a consistent indoor temperature. Murphy suggests sealing cracks with caulk or weather stripping.

Exterior walls. It’s also important to look for cracks and holes around the perimeter of your home. To identify air leaks in outside-facing walls, try holding a candle near suspect areas to reveal drafts and then seal leaks with caulk or weather stripping.

Fireplace and chimney. To prevent warm indoor air from escaping the home, Murphy also reminds homeowners to keep fireplace dampers closed when not in use; however, always make sure the damper is fully opened before starting a fire. You also should inspect the chimney cap to ensure that the chimney won’t have a smoke or water leak when you fire it up this winter.

Heating system. Keeping your heating system running efficiently is the most significant way to reduce utility bills and stay warm this winter. To reduce the potential for a breakdown in the middle of winter, Murphy recommends having your furnace inspected by certified technicians before old man winter arrives, and consider replacing a system that is more than 15 years old.

Programmable thermostats. To further maximize savings on your heating bills, Murphy recommends installing a smart thermostat, such as the Lennox iComfort E30, which works with Amazon Alexa smart home devices and is compatible with any brand of HVAC system.

The roof. The roof is your home’s first defense against falling rain, ice and snow, so it’s important to inspect it to make sure shingles are in place to prevent water from seeping inside the house. If large gaps are found, hire a professional roofing company to repair the problem areas.

By making a few minor adjustments around the house, homeowners can help alleviate safety concerns and reduce the amount of wasted energy, all while staying comfortable during the chilly season. To learn more about home energy efficiency and how to save money on utility bills, visit https://www.lennox.com or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Lennox.



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3 important areas to focus on when winterizing...

(BPT) - From the holidays to cold-weather fun like ice skating and skiing, winter promises its share of good times. Preparing your home for winter’s weather extremes can help ensure that you get the maximum enjoyment out of the season, while protecting your home’s vital systems and indoor comfort.

“Winter weather can take a toll on homes, so it’s important to take steps to protect systems like HVAC and plumbing before cold weather arrives,” says Emily Lewicki, brand manager with Luxaire(R). “Properly winterizing your home can help keep it more comfortable, prevent damage from cold and ice, improve efficiency and help reduce heating bills.”

Lewicki recommends vital winterization steps to get your home ready for the season:

1. Prepare your gas furnace.

During the summer, you probably didn’t think much about your furnace, but as winter approaches it’s important to make sure all elements of your home’s heating system are in top working order. If you haven’t already scheduled a professional service appointment for your furnace, now is the time. A professional technician is best equipped to ensure that furnaces are ready for winter.

Meanwhile, steps you can do yourself include:

* Remove any items that might have gotten stored near the furnace during the summer. Likewise, make sure air returns and vents are clean and not blocked by furniture or other items.

* Change the air filter. If you have trouble remembering when it’s time to replace filters, try setting reminders on your smartphone according to the furnace manufacturer’s recommended schedule.

* Update your thermostat’s programming to reflect your winter schedule. If you don’t have a programmable thermostat, consider installing one; a properly programmed thermostat can reduce energy bills up to $180 a year, according to the ENERGYSTAR.gov website.

If your current furnace is more than 10 years old and frequently needs repair, consider replacing it before winter gets into full swing. Extreme cold can make a worn furnace work harder and possibly fail altogether when you need it most. High-efficiency gas furnaces like a Luxaire(R) Acclimate(TM) gas furnace can help ensure that you’re never without heat during the winter, while also saving money on utility bills. These ENERGY STAR qualified furnaces are 15 to 25 percent more energy efficient than standard models, meaning they require less fuel to keep your home at a comfortable temperature.

2. Protect windows and doors.

Up to a third of the heat lost from an average home escapes through windows and doors, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Before winter arrives, take these steps to protect windows and doors from air leaks, drafts and heat loss:

* Check weather stripping on doors and caulking around windows. If any are damaged or worn, replace them.

* Install storm windows to further reduce drafts.

* Use temporary measures like draft dodgers along the base of doors and removable insulation kits over windows to help keep cold air out and warm air inside.

3. Manage pipes and water sources.

Extremely low temperatures can cause water pipes to burst, causing a loss of water and possibly extensive damage to your home if flooding occurs. Uninsulated pipes can also cause heat loss, which increases energy costs.

To minimize winter’s impact on pipes and other water-related systems, take these steps:

* Place insulation on exposed pipes that carry hot water, especially if they are warm or hot to the touch. The Department of Energy says insulating pipes can increase water temperature by 2 to 4 degrees, allowing you to lower the setting on your water heater to conserve energy.

* Have outdoor water supplies like irrigation systems professionally drained and winterized to prevent freezing and costly damage.

* Flush the water heater to remove particles and sediment that collects inside the unit over time, hindering its efficiency. If you don’t have a gas-powered water heater, you can wrap it with insulation to improve its efficiency.

Finally, check on your home’s insulation in key areas like attics and basements. If your home needs more insulation, or the insulation you have is in bad shape, add more before winter arrives. The Insulation Institute offers an online guide to help you understand how much insulation you need.

“Winterizing is the best way to protect your home from cold-related damage, and ensure your home’s heating system operates at maximum efficiency throughout cold weather,” Lewicki says.



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7 projects to help your home weather the winter...

(BPT) - If chilly temperatures make you want to snuggle under a blanket in front of a roaring fire, just think about your poor water pipes that can’t escape the cold. You can’t wrap your home in a warm, protective blanket when winter arrives, but a few winterization steps can help ensure your home weathers the winter safely and efficiently.

“Winterizing is definitely an important way to protect a home from the ravages of snow, ice and harsh temperatures, but it’s also an opportunity to boost a home’s energy efficiency,” says Chris Williams, merchandising director at Lowe's. “Some of the easiest and most effective winterization projects can also contribute to energy savings throughout the year.”

Here are seven projects to improve energy efficiency and prepare your home for winter:

Inside

* Protect pipes — Any plumbing pipes that run through uninsulated areas such as a crawl space or attic are at risk for freezing if temperatures plummet. Seal any cracks or openings where pipes exit the home, and fit unprotected pipes with pipe sleeves. Insulating pipes can reduce heat loss that makes your water heater work harder and use more energy, and raise the water temperature 2 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

* Add weather stripping to doors and windows — If your home is drafty, adding weather stripping to seal air leaks can reduce heating bills as much as 20 percent, the DOE says. Identify places where air leaks occur in your home, and choose the right weather stripping for each area.

* Caulk around windows and doors — Air can also leak through minute cracks around windows and doors. Sealing such cracks with caulk further reduces the air leaks that make your furnace work harder and your home feel drafty.

* Add insulation — Insulation can make your home stay warmer in winter and cooler in summer, and help your heating and cooling systems work more efficiently. How much insulation your home needs depends on factors such as where you live, how old the home is and how well it was insulated to begin with. If you’re unsure how much insulation your home needs, check out the Energy Star insulation guide.

Outside

* Protect outdoor plumbing — Whether you have an outdoor shower or a simple hose connection, it’s important to protect outdoor plumbing from freezing. Water freezing in outdoor pipes can cause severe damage and costly water leaks. Turn off water flow to outdoor pipes and flush the water from the system. Remove and store garden hoses for the winter. If you spot any cracks or problems, take care of them right away. Finally, add insulation, such as a hose bib cover to outdoor faucets.

* Prepare the lawn for winter — A healthy lawn requires less watering and work in spring than one that’s been ravaged by winter’s rigors. Keep grass mowed until it stops growing, and rake leaves and grass clippings to maximize sun exposure for grass. Mulch around plants and trees to protect them against harsh weather and freezing temperatures.

* Clean windows — Sunlight is a natural, cost-effective way to help keep your home warmer during winter. Opening drapes and blinds can maximize the amount of sun that enters a room and help warm it. However, dirty windows can reduce the amount of sunlight that gets through the glass. Plus, clean windows will help make your home feel brighter and lighter during the darkest days of winter.

For more energy-saving winterization ideas, visit www.lowes.com.



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Insulation can help protect homes from flooding

(BPT) - Hurricane season is in full swing, and thousands of homeowners across the southern U.S. and Puerto Rico have been hit by mammoth hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

The cost of damages that occur in hurricanes or intense tropical storms making landfall in the U.S. each year numbers in the billions. Heavy rain, storm surges and coastal flooding can all contribute to the destruction of homes and other buildings.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), flooding accounts for more than $3.5 billion in insurance claims annually. Flood waters due to storm surge, underperforming drainage or broken levees can induce physical deterioration of the building structure; perpetuate mold growth; contain contaminants, corrosive dissolved salts and/or raw sewage; saturate insulation and wallboard, carpets and furniture as well as contribute toward respiratory problems, allergies, infection and irritation of the eyes and skin.

In the aftermath of a hurricane, concentrated efforts are made to clean up and get families back in their homes. Repair work to replace damaged wood and drywall can help the home look like new, but what about the building materials behind the walls? Traditional insulation materials like fiberglass and cellulose insulate the typical family home from the heat and cold. However, it is not the primary function of traditional insulation to protect against flooding. So, when this occurs, insulation offers virtually no impediment to rising floodwaters. Traditional insulation often becomes laden with moisture and is usually unable to dry out quick enough to withstand damage. If not completely removed during the clean-up process, excess moisture leads to the potential for mold growth.

FEMA has identified flood-resistant building materials ideal for use in the reconstruction or repair of a building impacted by a hurricane and flooding. Building materials FEMA has identified include corrosion-resistant coated steel, pressure-treated wood, epoxy formed-in-place flooring as well as closed-cell spray foam insulation. These products fall into Class 4 or Class 5 of FEMA’s flood damage-resistance classification system. For FEMA to consider a building material to be flood-resistant, it must be able to withstand direct contact with floodwater for an extended period (72 hours) of time.

Closed-cell spray foam insulation, like that available from Icynene, quickly becomes rigid and adds structural integrity. Applied in areas such as the basement or crawlspace, it can help reduce the risk of significant damage that hurricanes and the resulting floodwaters can cause. This is due to closed-cell spray foam insulation’s ability to reject bulk water ingress.

Spray foam insulation can also help play an important role in maintaining a comfortable temperature year round while helping to control monthly expenses. Thanks to spray foam insulation’s air-sealing qualities, homeowners can reduce the size of their heating and cooling equipment since less effort is required to heat or cool the home.

With the increase in the intensity of hurricanes over the past 30 years, having a home insulated with closed-cell spray foam insulation can be an effective way to ensure you are better prepared for the next hurricane season. More information can be found at Icynene.com.



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Roof repair: Mind the gaps, banish the squirrels

(BPT) - Cold can aggravate a roof issue and quickly turn minor defects into costly repair bills; in fact, the latest “Cost vs. Value” report from Remodeling Magazine estimates the average roofing replacement costs over $20,000.

So, whether you’ve already noticed signs of wear on your roof or just want more “overhead” peace of mind, pay special attention to two seemingly small aspects of the roof that homeowners often overlook:

Gaps: Seal it, patch it

Be sure to check for any gaps around gutters, skylights and roofing vents then utilize the correct caulking, patching and sealants. Sealing these areas can keep out moisture and reduce heating costs – and many sealants are especially designed to adhere directly onto exterior surfaces. Even the tiniest cracks and gaps can allow moisture to enter, not to mention rodents, squirrels and other unwelcome varmints.

Pipes: Don’t leave a welcome mat for squirrels

Roof venting pipes are another area to closely inspect. One of the more common roof problems involves cracked rooftop venting pipes made with cheap lead tops as they corrode over time. To make matters worse, squirrels and other critters are known to relentlessly chew their way into a home via these thin pipe flashings as the lead entices these unwelcome varmints to gnaw at them, thus providing interior access for damaging rain, snow and more pests once whittled away.

“Squirrel infestation is a very big problem throughout many areas of the United States, especially older homes,” explains Amanda Williams, marketing manager at Quarrix. “This is exactly why we developed a durable, lead-free and easy-to-install vent pipe flashing called Pipe Boot that simply slides over the existing vent, nails into place, and then twists securely to form a weather-tight seal.” With Pipe Boot, no specialty installation tools are needed as the telescoping sleeve allows for varying pipe sizes and can withstand frigid winter temperatures via a patented design.

Enlist the pros quickly when there’s trouble

Waiting too long to call in a certified professional can lead to bigger issues. For example, squirrels quickly reproduce and can potentially gnaw on electrical wiring or crawl into difficult-to-reach wall spaces, making extraction a nightmare. It’s a wise move to seek out a reputable roofing specialist, especially when dealing with roof damage from weather or critters, or both.

The roof is no place to cut corners, and no matter the season, even seemingly minor roofing issues can put your home and valuables at risk. For a thorough seasonal roof maintenance checklist, visit: Quarrix.com/Checklist or call 800-438-2920.



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It's time: Signs your heating system needs...

(BPT) - Temperatures are falling, pumpkin spice everything has reappeared and stores have already put out holiday displays — all signs that winter is either on the way, or already here, depending on where you live. If you haven’t already had your heating system tuned up, now is the time.

Neglect is a top cause of heating system inefficiency and failure, according to ENERGYSTAR.gov. Proper maintenance can help ensure your system works as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible throughout the winter. Failing to care for your heating system now could leave you without heat or with hefty emergency repair bills if the system breaks down during very cold weather.

A tune-up is an inexpensive way to ensure heating equipment is operating properly, and provides peace of mind that no potentially harmful blockage exists in a flue or exhaust vent. While it’s best to service a heating system before the cold weather arrives, it’s also never too late to perform routine maintenance.

According to the home repair experts at HomeServe USA, a typical professional heating system tune-up will include:

* Inspect safety features and controls

* Check thermostats (including adjustment if needed)

* Inspect burners (with adjustments if necessary)

* Check and clean the pilot light

* Check and clean any gauges

* Flush low-water cutoff

* Inspect filters, belts, oil motors, pumps and condensate line (if applicable)

* Check the flue pipe and chimney draft

* Inspect and clean the blower assembly

A thorough tune-up before the heating season starts can help reduce the risk of a problem in the dead of winter, but you should still be aware of your system’s performance. Symptoms that may warrant having a professional check the system include:

* The system takes a long time to warm the house after the furnace comes on.

* You hear unusual noises when the furnace turns on.

* You’ve noticed an unusual amount of dust coming from heating vents.

* The system cycles constantly.

* The burner flame is yellow or flickering. The flame should be blue in natural gas furnaces; a yellow flame means the unit is not burning efficiently and may even be producing harmful carbon monoxide.

* You notice your heating bills have increased more than you would reasonably expect given the temperature outside.

* You experience excessive moisture building up on windows, walls and other cold surfaces.

* You find visual evidence, such as streaks of soot around the furnace, rusting on flue pipes or pipe connections or the vent pipe visible from outside the home, or water leaking from the base of the chimney, vent or flue pipe.

If you act quickly at the first sign of a problem, you may be able to avoid a costly and potentially dangerous failure of your heating system. For more information about why you should schedule a tune-up, visit www.nationaltuneupday.com.

HomeServe offers home heating protection plans, including ones that cover tune-ups. A 24-hour repair hotline ensures plan holders can be connected with local, licensed and insured technicians 365 days a year. Visit www.HomeServeUSA.com to learn more.



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Raising the bar(n) in your home: Say hello to a...

(BPT) - Amid the many trends ebbing and flowing through home improvement, one in particular seems likely to stick around. Known for their versatility, barn doors have been popping up in homes across the country — in contemporary and rustic designs. With this design element found on such opposite sides of the style spectrum, one might wonder what it is about barn doors that people love so much. If you’ve found yourself asking the same thing, read on to discover why adding a barn door is an ideal winter home-improvement project.

Barn doors provide the perfect transition between rooms

As homeowners seek more open floor plans, interior doors are evolving. Barn doors meet homeowners’ desire for fluid room flows by seamlessly connecting adjacent rooms, allowing the flexibility to close spaces off or join them.

“The rolling feature of barn doors creates a fresh look in any home,” says Brad Loveless, product development manager for Simpson Door Company. “The functionality of a door mounted on a barn track allows homeowners to control the degree to which spaces are opened or closed.” Unlike conventional hinge-mounted doors, barn doors open up previously divided rooms with an air of intentionality.

Barn doors make an unexpected statement piece

Like a distinctive piece of art in the home, the right interior door can showcase a homeowner’s style and personality. An unexpected door style tells a story that creates a great discussion point when entertaining friends and family. Is your home lacking something that inspires creativity and sparks conversation? You may find that a barn door is a simple solution to this problem with its eye-catching rolling feature. They’re subtle, but bold. Innovative, but not over the top. Barn doors catch your eye, without taking over the room.

Barn doors are adaptable to changing style trends

Do you ever worry that the sweater you bought last week will be out of style in a year or two? Are you forever a trend skeptic since the bell-bottom era? (If those can go out of style, anything can, right?) Contrary to what may feel like their recent popularity, these farmyard-meets-indoors statement pieces have been around for over a decade. Today you’ll find barn doors with a modern, sleek look, rustic wood paneling or even those made with a chalkboard.

Barn doors are available from a number of companies. For homeowners who like the look and feel of wood doors, Simpson Door Company offers rustic-style barn doors, as well as sleek, contemporary doors that can be mounted on barn track hardware.

Why now?

You won’t regret moving this installation to the top of your priority list of winter home-improvement projects. Adding a barn door while you’re stuck inside for the cold months makes an immediate visual difference in your home and can provide a scenic backdrop for holiday photos.



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Insulation tips: Give your home its own winter...

(BPT) - In fall's natural progression toward hibernation and all things cozy, preparation for your house is often forgotten. Insulation for the home can seem intimidating, but don’t let that stop you from digging deeper. You’ll find that proper insulation is key for superior home comfort and increased energy savings. Read on for some information on why your home may need its own new coat this winter to help you stay warm.

Why is insulation important?

Two words: consistency and savings. First, insulation helps keep your home at a consistently comfortable temperature. Second, insulation creates a more energy-efficient home, saving you up to 20 percent in heating/cooling costs, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). To put that in perspective, the typical U.S. home heating/cooling bill accounts for almost half of its energy costs each month — meaning you could save 10 percent of your overall energy bill.

What type of insulation do you need?

As for most things in life, it is important to know your options. Three of the most common types of insulation for home DIY are fiberglass batts, rigid foam panels (such as expanded polystyrene, or EPS) and mineral wool. Look below for the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Fiberglass

* Pros – non-flammable, inexpensive

* Cons – difficult to install properly without leaving gaps, which renders the insulation much less efficient; handling danger due to glass powder and small glass shards

EPS rigid foam panels

* Pros – excellent sound and temperature insulation; inexpensive; easy to install

* Cons – must cut pieces to fit around pipes, etc.

Mineral wool

* Pros – easy to install; flame resistant

* Cons – more effective when combined with other forms of insulation (meaning more work to install); higher price

For self-installation in your home, EPS offers many benefits other forms of insulation do not. Other forms of insulation (like fiberglass or mineral wool) require more safety precautions, like protective wear and training for proper installation.

“EPS provides the best insulating performance — ‘R-value’ — per dollar of any insulation,” says insulation expert Paul Kopelson, regional sales director for Insulfoam. “Other forms of insulation are challenging to install without leaving gaps and wrinkles that can cut the efficiency of the product in half. It’s important as a homeowner to know that your insulation will do what it’s supposed to, and do it well.”

What’s next?

Inhale confidence, exhale doubts. With your new knowledge of insulation types, a quick trip to a local home improvement store will arm you to better understand the options. Home improvement stores and lumber dealers stock a wide range of insulation products, including EPS options such as R-Tech insulation. Check them out, and get ready for a warmer winter. Your house (and your energy bill) will thank you.



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5 Effortless DIY Projects to Prep Your Home for...

(BPT) - The telltale signs are all there. Maybe it’s football season, the changing color of the trees right outside your door, or the crisp morning air that’s suddenly taken on a chill. Yes, there’s no denying it, fall is here and winter is quickly following behind.

No matter where you live in the country, the colder months are synonymous with the indoor months. Your home becomes your refuge as well as your sanctuary. But as you prepare for the cold yourself, you may not realize your home needs some preparation as well. Now’s the perfect opportunity to begin those projects before fall gives way entirely to winter.

Below are five DIY projects you can tackle in a single Saturday with minimal expense and experience needed, each of which will make the upcoming seasons cozier for you and your family.

* Winterize your AC/water lines. Your air conditioner and your outdoor faucets are mainstays all summer, but as cooler temperatures set in, it’s time to retire them for the year. Start by draining your hoses and air conditioner pipes to remove excess water. Next, be sure all exterior water faucets are tightly sealed and your AC system is turned off — if your unit has such a switch.

* Seal up those hidden gaps and cracks. Small cracks along the borders of your windows or doors are easy to go unnoticed, but you’ll feel their presence on your monthly energy bills. Don’t let warm air escape your home through these openings. Seal them by applying GREAT STUFF(TM) Window & Door Insulating Foam Sealant. These easy-to-use foam sealants can tackle any small opening in your windows or doors to help keep your home energy efficient and prevent those costly air leaks.

* Keep your furnace and its surrounding area clean. Changing your furnace filter regularly (cleaning schedule dependent on your type of furnace) keeps your furnace running efficiently and protects your home’s air quality. However, it’s also one of the most easily forgotten chores. To avoid missing this task, set a date you’ll remember — such as the first of the month — and follow it rigidly. In addition, be sure the area around your furnace is clear of clutter so you don’t accidentally create a potential fire hazard.

* Block out unwanted guests. We’re not talking about your in-laws here. As temperatures drop, the warmth of your home becomes even more appealing for unwanted pests. Use GREAT STUFF(TM) Pestblock Insulating Foam Sealant to seal the areas around bathroom plumbing and any outdoor openings that pests may use to enter your home.

* Insulate your pipes. If you live in a part of the country where your pipes are in danger of freezing during winter, insulating them can protect against pipe rupture. Wrap exterior pipes in a versatile, moisture-resistant, high-compressive foam to ward against pipe freezing and ensure your pipes come into spring in the same shape you left them in the fall.

Our homes are only growing increasingly vulnerable with the changing of the seasons. So, what are you waiting for? Tackling any of these projects will have a dramatic effect on your home’s cold weather preparedness — and the energy bill savings will be great on your wallet, too.



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All home warranties are not created equal

(BPT) - Having a home warranty is a smart way to help deal with the inevitable home repair problems that all property owners face at one point or another.

After all, a good home warranty can mean getting expert help when your HVAC system needs to be fixed, your water heater needs to be replaced, or your refrigerator requires a new part.

But unfortunately, all home warranties are not created equal. And shopping for a home warranty can be tough, especially if you aren’t familiar with home warranty coverage and providers.

So to find a home warranty that will protect your home and budget, here are three important questions to ask, along with a few tips on what to look for in a top-notch home warranty.

1. What’s covered?

Some home warranties are only good for appliances. Others focus on systems within your house, such as your air conditioning, heating or plumbing systems. The best warranties offer broad protection at a fair price, and even allow you to select from various coverage approaches based on your needs.

When shopping around, inquire about exclusions, limitations and non-covered expenses. Most, if not all, plans DO have these. For example, there may be a cap on the amount of coverage for a particular item; an environmental disposal fee, required in some counties, may be excluded from coverage; or modifications, not covered under the home warranty, may be needed to bring a covered system up to code or in compliance with new standards.

2. Is the price affordable?

Obviously, you’ll want to initially know the specifics of how much a warranty will cost you — not just for the annual price of coverage, but also for future service calls.

When purchasing an American Home Shield warranty, you choose a $75, $100 or $125 fee for your service requests, which gives you the flexibility to pay more or less for your annual contract. As with all home warranty companies, the price of an American Home Shield warranty plan varies based on multiple factors, including the specific type of plan you choose and your state of residency. But basic coverage starts at about $300 and goes up to around $600 annually for more comprehensive plans — a bargain considering the cost of replacing things in your house that will likely break down at some point.

When considering cost factors, also ask if all the items you want covered are included in the base cost of the plan, or whether you will need to add additional items to create the perfect plan for your home.

3. Does the home warranty cover just mechanical components?

Before you buy any home warranty, inquire about the extent of coverage different companies may provide based on normal wear and tear of an item — as well as any limitations.

Many components of home systems and appliances contain both mechanical and non-mechanical features. While the primary goal of a home warranty is to repair or replace covered items so that they function mechanically, American Home Shield covers both mechanical repairs and certain non-mechanical items, such as handles, doors, knobs and shelves.

That doesn’t mean everything is covered, of course. So let’s say your child stands on your dishwasher door and breaks the seal. Sorry, but that is NOT a covered repair, because it is not “normal” wear and tear.

Also, what happens if a repair person comes to your home and, despite his or her best efforts, simply can’t fix something covered under your home warranty?

With an AHS home warranty, if a repair person can’t fix a covered item, AHS will replace it.

That doesn’t mean you will necessarily get the precise brand and color of, say, a washing machine or dryer. After all, you may have bought your laundry set four years ago, and the manufacturer might not even make those exact same models or colors today.

However, if your washer and dryer do fizzle out completely, AHS will install a replacement that has similar operational features.

What’s more, at American Home Shield, 98 percent of service requests are dispatched to local repair technicians within 24 hours.

Using your home warranty wisely

Regardless of the type of home warranty you buy or whom you buy it from, always follow the maintenance guidelines specified for your home’s appliances and systems. Likewise, it’s a smart idea to have those systems and appliances regularly serviced.

Taking both of those steps can prevent many service repair calls and help reduce your overall cost of homeownership.

Ultimately, an excellent home warranty provides you with a solid asset that helps safeguard one of your biggest investments.



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Ready, set, guests: 3 paint projects for fall...

(BPT) - “Despite the hectic chaos that comes with the back-to-school season and adapting our family schedules, I find fall to be the perfect time to tackle my home to-do list,” explains Cyndy Aldred, the do-it-yourself paint blogger behind The Creativity Exchange. “It’s perfect because fall is our favorite time of year for entertaining!”

With kids in school and summer travels winding down, fall can be the perfect time to complete quick projects to get your home ready for fall social gatherings. Whether you’re gearing up for the big game or hosting next month’s book club, Aldred offers her favorite paint projects that are sure to wow your guests.

* Add instant curb appeal with painted porch furniture

Aldred loves the tried-and-true trick of painting your front door, but she recommends adding an even bigger pop of color with painted furniture. For her front-porch makeover, Aldred painted her porch bench using PPG Timeless exterior paint and primer in a soothing, soft grey, Silver Reflection (50BG 54/017), and added decorative pillows to create a warm and welcoming entrance for a gathering of friends. With an open front porch, Aldred made sure to use PPG Timeless paint, available at The Home Depot, because it provides good resistance to chipping or flaking and extreme weather conditions. “I found out that this new line of paint uses UV-Protect Technology, which uses the same technology as automotive paint, so it won’t fade in sunlight or dull over time,” says Aldred.

* Declutter your home with color

Busy fall schedules often mean more school bags, homework, sports equipment, crafts and holiday decorations around the house. Aldred recommends quickly tackling a cluttered area of your home with a fresh paint job. For example, if you have bookcases in your family room or glass-faced cabinets in your kitchen, Aldred suggests painting the backs of them in a standout color, like the PPG Timeless 2018 Color of the Year, Deep Onyx (00NN 07/000). “I love this trick because of how the eye is drawn to the color and not the clutter that might be around or behind it,” says Aldred.

* Transform your favorite gathering space with a fresh coat of paint

Kitchens, living rooms and dining rooms are often favorite gathering spaces for friends and family in the home, so they are ideal spaces to make a great impression with a fresh coat of paint. “People always gravitate to our dining room when we are entertaining,” says Aldred, “so I love to freshen the space each year with a new paint color. It’s one of the least expensive and easiest ways to get a new look, and I love using a one-coat product to make it even easier.” Aldred recently used PPG Timeless interior paint and primer in Bluegrass White (30GG 73/048) to update her dining room. For an on-trend look, she went with a flat finish. “Contrary to popular opinion, a flat finish in a high-traffic entertaining space is durable if you select the right product,” explains Aldred. With the paint's outstanding washability, scrubbability and stain resistance, Aldred was sure it could withstand the wear and tear of countless social gatherings.

Perhaps it is time to embrace fall with a few fresh paint projects to impress your guests and make lasting improvements to your home. For more paint inspiration, visit Diy.PPG.com or www.TheCreativityExchange.com.



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House hunting and credit: What you need to know

(BPT) - By now it is something of a cliche to call homeownership the American dream. But even if sitting on your own deck, looking over your picket fence and sipping lemonade doesn’t move you, homeownership is still one of the best ways to build wealth.

For many, owning a home is cheaper than renting and, in the long run, the biggest investment they will ever make. It is also a practical financial move thanks to the fact that you're likely building equity while getting a mortgage interest tax break.

So although it is perfectly fine to dream about backyard barbecues and the smell of fresh-cut grass, the path to owning your own home should also involve taking the time to do some financial sightseeing.

As a leader in creating credit scoring models, VantageScore Solutions has made it a priority to educate consumers on the important role a good credit history plays in buying a home.

Whether you’re about to set out to buy your first home or if you are getting ready to sell and buy another home, here are the basics of how credit impacts the home-buying process.

Basics

If you are like most people, you will probably need to take out a loan. If you are able to pay cash for your home instead, count yourself among the lucky few!

A huge part of taking out a loan involves your credit history and credit score. Basically, you must prove to lenders that you can be a responsible borrower and can be trusted with a mortgage of many thousands of dollars. A strong credit score may provide proof of this trustworthiness.

Different types of loans have different credit requirements. Some loans require you to have a credit score of at least 620, although it is possible (with some difficulty) to be approved for a loan with a credit score as low as 580. But getting loan approval is only part of the story.

Better credit, better rate

Home loans come in all shapes and sizes. Some are fixed interest mortgages, some have adjustable rates or longer terms and the list of variables goes on. Just like anything else, some loans are better for you than others. To get the loan that has the lowest interest rate, which right now is around 4 percent, usually requires a higher credit score. Rates can be considerably higher when you have a lower credit score, and the result is paying significantly more monthly over the life of the loan.

The reason is that a higher credit score demonstrates that you are skilled at managing debt and have a history of responsibly paying back many types of loans. Therefore, the lender is taking on less risk when lending you money. The less risk for them, the better the interest rate for you.

While there are, of course, more nuances to the process, your credit score plays an instrumental role in determining the type of loan you may qualify for. Therefore, before you go to your first open house, check your credit score to better understand the factors that typically impact your scores. Many websites provide free access to your VantageScore, which is a perfectly fine barometer to use to directionally gauge your creditworthiness. Mortgage lenders use FICO scores in their underwriting.

You can stay on top of things by subscribing to the monthly credit scoring newsletter, The Score. In The Score, you can find information on VantageScore 4.0, the fourth-generation scoring model that will be available to consumers in early 2018.

Knowing your credit history and understanding the factors that could impact your credit score will help you plan, budget and come up with a realistic wish list for your house.



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Emergency preparedness 101: Know how to protect...

(BPT) - Few areas of the country are immune to natural disasters or severe weather. Whether you live in a hurricane zone or face icy winters, it is important to prepare your home and family to weather the storm and know the potential health and safety risks that may arise in emergency situations.

Beyond inconvenience, widespread and long-term power outages resulting from storms raise a much more serious concern: carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. While the poisonous gas can come from any fossil fuel-burning appliance or vehicle, the risk posed by generators is of particular concern because of this year’s devastating storm season.

“Simple preparation, along with an understanding of the risks of CO, are key factors for protecting your home and loved ones both during storm season and throughout the year,” said Tarsila Wey, director of marketing for First Alert. “The risk of CO can occur anytime — not just during emergencies — which is why installing and regularly testing CO alarms are an integral part of any home safety plan.”

What is CO?

Often dubbed “the silent killer,” the gas is colorless and odorless, making it impossible to detect without a CO alarm. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, CO poisoning is the No. 1 cause of accidental poisoning in the United States and is responsible for an average of 450 deaths each year.

CO poisoning is notoriously difficult to diagnose — often until it’s too late. Symptoms mimic those of many other illnesses, and include nausea, headaches, dizziness, weakness, chest pain and vomiting. In more severe poisoning cases, people may experience disorientation or unconsciousness, or suffer long-term neurological disabilities, cardio-respiratory failure or death.

Sources of CO may include, but are not limited to, generators, heaters, fireplaces, furnaces, appliances or cooking sources using coal, wood, petroleum products or other fuels emitting CO as a by-product of combustion. Attached garages with doors, ductwork or ventilation shafts connected to a living space also are sources of CO.

What should you do?

The National Fire Protection Association recommends installing CO alarms on every level of the home, including the basement, and within 15 feet of all sleeping rooms. These alarms are the first line of defense against CO poisoning. Checking alarms regularly and following manufacturer instructions for alarms and all home equipment play an equally vital role.

In case of power outage, never use a generator indoors. Portable electricity generators must be used outside only and should never be used in a garage or in any confined area that can allow CO to collect. When running a generator, be sure to remain 15 to 20 feet away from the outside perimeter of the home and be careful to follow operating instructions closely.

Additional areas to consider include the kitchen stove, a frequent source of CO poisoning in the home. Ensure the kitchen vent or exhaust fan is running to limit exposure. For any fuel-burning appliances in the home, make sure to have a professional inspect them regularly to detect any CO leaks. This includes items such as the furnace, oven, fireplace, dryer and water heater.

If you have an attached garage, it is extremely important to never leave your car running inside. Even if the garage door is open, CO emissions can leak inside the home.

CO alarms should be battery-powered or hardwired with battery backup. To help ensure your family is protected, First Alert offers a variety of alarms to meet all needs, including a table-top alarm with a 10-year sealed battery and digital display to see detected CO levels in parts per million. Additional alarm options include plug-in and wall-mount alarms, hardwired alarms with battery backup, and a combination smoke and CO alarm for 2-in-1 protection.

In addition to carbon monoxide alarms, fire extinguishers, along with smoke alarms, should be an integral part of a comprehensive home safety plan.

Most importantly, if your CO alarm sounds, go outside for fresh air immediately and call 911. To learn more about CO safety or other home safety tips from First Alert, visit www.firstalert.com.



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Prevent falls this fall with a home safety...

(BPT) - After months of sticky heat and humidity, it’s time to put away the shorts and pull out the sweaters because the autumn season is finally here. But, late September brings us more than just cooler temperatures and a wardrobe change. If you or a loved one are over the age of 65, the change in seasons is also an opportunity to think about another kind of fall — the kind that impacts one in four older Americans every year — and the steps we can all take to help prevent them.

According to the National Council on Aging, falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and account for the majority of emergency room visits for older adults. More than 75 percent of falls happen in or around the house, but fortunately there are ways to evaluate our loved ones’ homes and make them safer for everyday living.

Use the checklist below, based on suggestions from the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to help guide your review of the exterior and interior of the property. Many of the safety measures listed can be made at little to no cost, but more significant modifications could require a considerable investment.

Keep in mind, there are financial options available for seniors who want to modify their homes to meet their changing needs. Area Agencies on Aging, state and local governments, and some nonprofits offer grants, loans or other assistance programs for eligible seniors in need of home repairs and modifications.

Older homeowners may also want to consider using a reverse mortgage loan to convert a portion of their home's equity into cash proceeds that can be used for many reasons, including home modifications and maintenance. Unlike a home equity loan, a reverse mortgage requires no monthly principal or interest payments and cannot be frozen or reset.

Borrowers do not have to repay the loan balance until the last eligible spouse permanently leaves the home, or if they fail to meet their loan obligations, which include staying current on property taxes, insurance and any condominium or HOA fees.

For a comprehensive overview of reverse mortgage loans and a Borrower Roadmap to the loan process, visit http://www.reversemortgage.org/Your-Roadmap, a free consumer resource created by the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association.

Home Safety Checklist

Start on the outside:

* Make sure the driveway and any paved walkways are smooth and stable. Seal any cracks before more damage is created. Crumbling or uneven concrete surfaces should be repaired.

* Porch and deck flooring should be flat, even and nonslip. Any loose or broken floorboards should be nailed down or replaced.

* Outdoor steps should have sturdy, easily graspable handrails.

* The porch and entryway should be well-lit and light switches should be easily accessible.

* Consider whether the doorway to the home can be converted to a no-step entrance way. There are many creative ways to achieve this.

Check out the inside:

* Floors should be flat and nonslip; floorboards should be stable and carpets should be free of holes and tears that could create a tripping hazard.

* Throw rugs should be fully fastened to the floor with tacks or double-sided tape, or taken out of the house.

* All stairs and steps should be flat and even, and clutter should be removed.

* Add nonslip treads to stairs that are not carpeted.

* Stairways should have solidly mounted handrails on both sides of the steps if possible, and should be well-lit.

* If you or your loved ones face mobility challenges and stairs are an obstacle to accessing different levels of the home, consider installing a chairlift that will enable them to enjoy all the rooms in the house again.



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Replacing a furnace? How to choose an...

(BPT) - If it’s time to replace your furnace, you may be wondering if it’s worth the extra investment to buy an energy-efficient system. Or, you may be unsure how to choose an energy-efficient system for your home.

“Energy-efficient heating systems can substantially lower your fuel costs over the lifetime of the system, so it’s well worth investing the time and money to find just the right one,” says Chip Wade, HGTV(R) expert. “Depending on where you live, an energy-efficient gas furnace can be between 12 and 16 percent more efficient than standard models, according to ENERGY STAR.”

Wade offers some guidance for choosing an energy-efficient heating system that’s right for your home:

* The Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) measures how efficiently a gas furnace converts fuel into energy. Generally, the higher the AFUE rating of a furnace the more energy efficient it will be. For example, a furnace with an AFUE rating of 90 percent means that same percentage of fuel gets turned into heat, and only 10 percent is lost through the chimney and elsewhere. You can find the AFUE rating on the yellow Energy Guide label on the furnace.

* Be sure to right-size your furnace. A unit that’s too small for your home will have to work harder to maintain a comfortable temperature, and will use more fuel. A unit that’s too big may also use more fuel than is actually required to adequately heat your home, and may also result in uneven temperatures throughout the house.

* Look for models like the the YORK(R) Affinity(TM) Series modulating gas furnace that offer efficiency-enhancing features. For example, the Affinity furnaces have a modulating burner that continuously adjusts heating levels in small increments to match the precise degree of comfort you need. Leading-edge technology also tailors the operation of the furnace to match the climate of your location. The system also self-monitors to make set-up and maintenance faster and easier.

* Choose a gas furnace that offers sealed combustion. These furnaces draw air from outside and mix it with the fuel at a controlled rate. This maximizes the amount of heat the furnace can generate from the fuel. Most quality energy-efficient furnaces will have this feature.

* Pay attention to the warranty and be sure you understand just what it covers and for how long. Furnaces are a big investment, so it’s important to choose one that gives you the best warranty. For example, Affinity furnaces offer a Complete Assurance Warranty Pledge that promises if the heat exchanger fails in the first 10 years, the company will provide the option to replace the furnace.

Finally, before you invest in an energy-efficient furnace make sure your house will work with the furnace to maximize its efficiency. Seal air leaks throughout the home, especially at windows and doors, and throughout duct work. Make sure you have the correct amount and type of insulation in your home for your climate. Have the rest of your home’s HVAC system inspected to ensure there are no problems that could hinder the efficient operation of your new furnace.

To learn more about energy-efficient furnaces, visit www.YORK.com.



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4 fallacies you should never believe about...

(BPT) - Deck-building trends come and go, including new styles and building materials like composites. However, wood remains the material of choice for the majority of deck projects, according to Popular Mechanics.

When you’re weighing what type of material to use for your deck project, you’ll likely hear pros and cons for both composites and wood — as well as a lot of misinformation. Here are four fallacies about wood decking that you should never believe, and the truth behind each:

Myth 1. Wood won’t hold its value the way a composite deck will. Build your new deck from wood, and you could recoup nearly 72 percent of the cost of your investment at the time of resale, according to Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value Report. That’s because a wooden deck increases resale value more than a composite one; the report notes composite decks recoup about 65 percent of their investment at time of resale.

Myth 2. Wood is difficult to maintain. All decks require some maintenance, even if they’re built from a material the manufacturer touts as virtually maintenance free. Naturally rot-resistant woods like Western Red Cedar actually require less maintenance than you may believe. If you choose to stain or finish your wooden deck, you’ll have to refinish it to maintain its beauty and weather resistance. Or, you could allow your cedar deck to weather naturally. It will acquire a rich, silvered hue over time. The only maintenance it will require is a good cleaning now and then to remove dirt from the surface and between boards to prevent mold and mildew growth.

Myth 3. Wood-look isn’t unique anymore; you can get that appearance from composites. Do false teeth ever look as natural and right as real ones? Do fake nails? Mother Nature remains the greatest artist. While many composites attempt to mimic the look of wood, they can’t replicate the unique beauty, feeling or smell of real cedar.

Myth 4. Wood contributes to deforestation and that’s bad for the environment. Real cedar is harvested from sustainably managed forests — every year, forest managers plant new trees to replace the ones cut. It makes good business sense to sustain the source of your livelihood, so wood producers take care to protect the health and longevity of their forests.

However, wood is environmentally friendly for other reasons, too. Cedar is naturally rot-, decay- and insect-resistant, meaning there’s no need to treat it with chemicals. Woods such as cedar are also 100 percent renewable and sustainable; once your wood deck’s usable life is done (long in the future), the planks can naturally decompose or be recycled for other uses. Once composite decks wear out, the material will sit in landfills and never degrade.

Wood also improves air quality. Trees absorb and store carbon dioxide (a major component of greenhouse gases) and emit oxygen. After a tree is harvested, the carbon dioxide contained in its cells remains trapped there, and out of the atmosphere.

To learn more about Western Red Cedar, visit RealCedar.com.



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Garage doors: More visual impact than your...

(BPT) - If you’re buying a garage door, you’ll be faced with several decisions that you likely never had to make before. Before you call your local garage door dealer, here are some of the decisions that you need to face.

The design decision

Remember the adage that the front door is the most important design element in the home? Not anymore.

In most homes today, the visual impact of the garage door is many times greater than that of the front door. Studies have shown that your garage door design can affect the appraisal value of your home.

Today, manufacturers offer hundreds of new, stunning looks. Design experts recommend that you choose a door design that complements your home's overall appearance. To do that, match the door with your home’s exterior colors, textures and patterns.

To help you with your design decision, the garage door industry has created the free consumer site www.garagewownow.com, which contains dozens of photos of the latest garage doors from many manufacturers. Plus, most manufacturer websites feature a “door designer” that lets you see how designs will look on an uploaded photo of your own garage.

New opener decisions

The garage door and opener are two separate items, but they are often purchased together. And today’s openers offer many more features and accessories than ever before. You can choose:

AC vs. DC: Openers with DC (direct current) motors, which were rare 10 years ago, are now widely available. DC and AC motors are durable and reliable, but DC motors are quieter, and they allow the door to soft-start and soft-stop, instead of clanging to an abrupt stop.

Accessories: Did you know you can now operate and monitor your garage door from your smartphone? You can also get a battery backup unit, a real lifesaver in a power outage. When you consider motion detection, music speakers, mini transmitters, automatic deadbolt locks, LED lighting, external keypads and more, you’ll realize how far openers have come.

New thinking on insulation

“The garage acts as a ‘buffer zone,’ much like the vestibule to a restaurant or a grocery store,” says Joe Hetzel, P.E., technical director for the garage door manufacturers’ association. “An insulated garage door makes it easier to control the heating and cooling costs for the home.”

This new “buffer zone” thinking considers garage door insulation a must. Fortunately, insulation typically pays for itself. Dow Chemical recently reported that, for every $100 you invest in an insulation project, you generally get a return of $117 in recouped energy costs.

“Once you get an insulated door, you never go back to uninsulated,” says Ed Hermanns, a door dealer in New Jersey and president of the International Door Association. “Most of our customers today buy an insulated door, and that number seems to increase every year.”

You might be buying a new garage door out of necessity, but it’s a smart purchase. An upscale garage door replacement delivers the highest return on investment for all upscale remodeling projects in the new 2017 Cost vs. Value Report from Remodeling Magazine.

So, while you have a few decisions yet to make, you’ve already made the good choice to get a new garage door. After you add the latest designs and technology, you can admire your choices every time you pull in the driveway.



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Hot home design: 4 things to consider when...

(BPT) - Selecting new siding is one of the most important curb appeal decisions homeowners face when building new or remodeling an existing home. With so many options — both classic and modern materials — there’s a lot to consider.

Many manufacturers are now combining traditional styles and materials with advanced technologies, delivering a product homeowners can love for years to come. Among all the options on the market, vinyl siding — with its various styles, textures and colors — remains the most-used product. In fact, 2016 marked 22 straight years that vinyl siding held the top spot in cladding for new single-family houses, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual home report. This material has come a long way since it was introduced in the 1950s, with manufacturers such as Ply Gem Building Products making strides in research and development efforts for design and performance.

Whether you are building a new home or remodeling, there are four key considerations every homeowner should account for when determining which siding option will best meet his or her needs: durability, design, maintenance and affordability.

Durability

Siding selection is typically a once-in-a-lifetime decision, making durability a key factor for many. Homeowners should look for a siding option that is resistant to every element, including rain, wind and even the sun. Manufacturers now offer siding products with technologies that resist the damaging impact of the sun, preserving color for the lifetime of the home. Options, like Ply Gem’s Mastic Vinyl Siding SolarDefense Reflective Technology, expand exterior home design with darker, on-trend colors that can make your home the envy of the neighborhood.

Design & color

Today, the most overwhelming decision for many when considering siding options can be style and color — but it doesn’t need to be. There are several primary siding material options available to homeowners — vinyl, aluminum, steel, wood, brick, fiber cement, stucco and stone — and countless color and style options within each material type. To help you determine what might look best, seek the advice of a siding specialist like a contractor, builder or architect for help. They can educate you on color coordination and what would go well with the neighborhood, while still giving personalized options for your home. Also check out online resources like Ply Gem’s home exterior visualizer to experiment with different options and customize your style.

“In recent years, homeowners have been getting more creative and choosing bolder colorful options for their exterior,” said Pat Verlodt, president of Color Services & Associates, an organization that identifies color trends and educates consumers and manufacturers about those trends. “Whether you’re looking for a certain period-specific color scheme to align with historical significance, for a new palette to freshen up your curb appeal, or for a specific panel texture, such as cedar shake or wood clapboard, my recommendation is to look at vinyl. It provides the homeowner the freedom to add low-maintenance color and definition that will never go out of style or need painting or refinishing.”

In fact, more than 400 vinyl siding colors have been certified for color retention, according to the Vinyl Siding Institute (VSI). The variety offers homeowners a virtually endless palette of fade-resistant colors, from pastels to deep hues, combined with trim, accents and accessories. Look to manufacturers like Ply Gem that offer complementary solutions for the entire exterior.

Maintenance

Beyond style and color, homeowners are also seeking siding that is low maintenance, which reduces or eliminates the cost and personal time expended for proper upkeep. Each siding material type has a different level of care and maintenance required. Vinyl typically requires just soap and water for periodic cleaning, and no need to paint, stain or caulk, which means little maintenance over the long term. Wood and fiber cement can require repainting every five to seven years. Stucco will need to be repainted and sealed. Brick and stone require repointing of mortar. The earlier point about durability plays a part here too, ensuring that the option you select is free from potential time-consuming and costly repairs due to storm damage such as wind and moisture.

Affordability

Lastly, establish a financial plan and budget. By doing this homework up front, you can have a more informed consultation with potential contractors and better ensure that estimates are aligned with your budget. Don’t forget that sometimes investing a little more into the project up front may reduce issues and maintenance costs down the road.

As you look to select new exterior siding, be sure to keep in mind these important factors — durability, design, maintenance and affordability — to make the best choice possible for your home and lifestyle. To get started on siding your house, look to manufacturer websites such as plygem.com for siding choices, as well as home visualizer and color selection tools that help homeowners experiment with different colors and textures before making a decision.



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This fall, make home upgrades with staying power

(BPT) - Fall can be the perfect time for homeowners to complete projects that busy summer schedules didn’t allow. It’s also a great time to look at ways to add lasting value to your property. This season, upgrade cheap fixes, freshen dated looks and incorporate lasting improvements in your home. Changes that can bring impact and also increase the resale potential of your home include:

Lose the linoleum

Linoleum has been popular in many homes since the 1950s, but these days it’s not the only flooring option for durability and waterproofing in areas like the kitchen and bath. Wood-look tile has become hugely popular, and the style isn’t going anywhere. Retailers like Lumber Liquidators carry an array of wood-look porcelain tile, vinyl and engineered flooring products that are versatile, water- and stain-resistant and fit with any decor.

Upgrade laminate countertops

Particleboard and laminate are affordable options, but not ones that will create impact in the kitchen. These days the options are vast for elevating countertops with butcher block, quartz, marble, concrete and more. Create a cohesive look with countertops matched to the cabinets. Updating hardware can also be an economical way to freshen the space and tie the look together.

Scrape popcorn ceilings

Common in many homes because they’re easy to apply, popcorn ceilings are often one of the first things a new homebuyer wants to change. If you’re looking to sell, scraping the popcorn in favor of a smooth look may win over prospective buyers. Always test popcorn ceilings for asbestos before you start.

Rethink wallpaper

Wallpaper had its day, but many new homeowners want it gone — and that’s not always an easy update. Save the headache now and later and opt for neutral paint styles while bringing interest and color with your décor. Whites and neutral paints for walls and trim brighten a space and make it appear bigger.

No more wall-to-wall carpeting

Many homeowners can’t wait to get rid of old, dirty and dated carpets in favor of the quality, reliability and beauty of hardwood and wood-look floors. Now there are a variety of hardwoods, bamboo and wood-look flooring styles to choose from, and it’s possible to achieve the look of hardwood at an accessible price point.

The best part of making improvements like these now is that homeowners can enjoy them all winter long, and far beyond. And you’ll increase the odds the next generation will love your home, too.



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Artisanal elegance for curated design in the...

(BPT) - Original, handcrafted décor brings an artisanal elegance to today’s modern kitchen. Designers and homeowners alike are incorporating more one-of-a-kind pieces that bring an individualized artisanship to the heart of the home. These unique fittings and fixtures adapt to multiple style preferences, from modern and contemporary urban design to rustic elegance. When it comes to the kitchen space, handmade furniture and accessories coupled with exposed natural materials infuse a sense of artistry for unmatched style.

Authentic elegance

Handcrafted materials make for eye-catching pieces in the kitchen. An island created from reclaimed wood transforms a functional aspect of the room into a beautiful piece of art. Live-edge countertops invigorate the wood grain and serve as a centerpiece for entertaining. A hammered copper sink paired with rich gold accessories doubles as a stunning complement to earth tones. Extend wood elements throughout the entire space with exposed beams and open shelving for a unified look.

Refined fittings

Deemed the jewel of the kitchen, the faucet serves as a focal point that brings all elements of the space together. The Litze Kitchen Collection by Brizo is inspired by the revival of the arts and crafts movement to meld artisan style with clean and contemporary sensibility. Every design element — from the three distinct spout configurations to the unique handle options — makes this collection feel at home in both modern, minimal environments and urban, industrial spaces. The Brilliance Luxe Gold and split Matte Black/Brilliance Luxe Gold finishes effortlessly bring luxury and style, while knurling details add textured appeal to any artisanal kitchen design.

Curated accents

Hand-painted accessories serve as beautiful statements in the kitchen with each piece containing a story as unique as the individual who created it. Whether decorated with bold colors or a muted palette, hand-painted accessories create striking displays of authenticity and originality. Use these pieces to adorn open shelves or feature them as table centerpieces to further accentuate a curated artisanal design.

Custom hardware

Custom drawer pulls and handles make a powerful statement in kitchen design. While seemingly small, these pieces unite all elements in the room’s aesthetic. Handles wrapped in leather bring both textural and visual appeal, while hand-carved wooden pulls cater to rustic elements when paired with exposed brick or mineral gray countertops.



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How to lower your monthly mortgage payment

(BPT) - Owning your own home comes with many advantages, including escaping rising rents and the personal and financial stability associated with homeownership. Fortunately, millions of Americans, with less than 20 percent down, have been able to buy a home sooner thanks to mortgage insurance (MI). If you don’t put down 20 percent of the mortgage cost, you will likely be required to purchase MI, which enables low-down-payment borrowers to qualify for home financing from lenders.

While homeownership has many benefits and continues to be part of the American Dream, it is not without costs. Several surveys have found that the majority of first-time homebuyers — over 80 percent according to one study — put less than 20 percent down. For these borrowers, there is usually the added expense of MI, which may give some of these borrowers pause.

But there is good news: the monthly private mortgage insurance premiums do not last forever on most conventional loans. And when private MI (PMI) cancels, homeowners will have more cash in their pockets each month — money that is available for home improvements or other goals. It is important to understand, however, that not all MI is the same, and not all MI can be canceled.

There are numerous low-down-payment mortgage options available that include MI. The two most common are: (1) home loans backed 100 percent by the government through the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) that include both an upfront and annual mortgage insurance premium (MIP); and (2) conventional loans, which are typically backed at least in part by private sources of capital, such as private MI. The key difference is that one form can be canceled (PMI) while the other (FHA) typically cannot be canceled.

An FHA loan can be obtained with a down payment as low as 3.5 percent. However, be aware that you will typically have to pay a mortgage insurance premium (MIP) of 1.75 percent of the total loan amount at closing or have it financed into the mortgage. In addition to your regular monthly mortgage payments on your FHA loan, you will also pay a fixed monthly MIP fee for the life of the loan. This means you could pay hundreds of dollars extra every month — thousands over the life of the loan — until you pay off the entirety of the loan.

If you obtain a conventional loan with PMI, you can put as little as 3 percent down. Like an FHA loan, PMI fees are generally factored into your monthly mortgage payment. However, PMI can often be canceled once you have established 20 percent equity in the home and/or the principal balance of the mortgage is scheduled to reach 78 percent of the home’s original value. This means that the rest of your mortgage payments will not include any extra fees, so that your payments go down in time, saving you money each month. What you save in the long run can then be put toward expenses like home renovations, which can further increase your home’s value.

MI is a good thing because it bridges the divide between a low down payment and mortgage approval. But not all MI is created equal. If you want to buy a home but still save in the long run, PMI might be the right option for you. Check out lowdownpaymentfacts.org to learn more.



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Focus on a single element to get the feel of a...

(BPT) - Dreaming of a renovation but lacking the time and resources for a full upgrade? You might be able to refresh your space by focusing your efforts on individual elements that have the most impact.

This growing interior design trend uses a thoughtful approach to renovation by analyzing what should be replaced to achieve the desired aesthetic. At the heart of this movement is the idea that a strong, singular update can change a room dramatically.

That means you can revamp your favorite rooms without investing in a complete remodel. For example, a new chandelier in the entryway might be the statement piece you need to welcome guests in style. Or, rather than ripping out the dining room, explore how a new dining set with table and chairs can change the entire personality of the space.

When investing in singular pieces to enhance a room, custom features reign supreme. The Laura Kirar KALLISTA collection from Kohler is a great example. Kirar, an internationally renowned designer, marries the beauty of natural elements with the pureness of line and symmetry in the collection's bath vanity, mirror and sconces.

Have you grown weary of your tired bathroom design? Mixing and matching various materials lets you make a personal statement in any room. With the KALLISTA Paletta line you can customize the look by choosing from five different finish combinations. For example, nickel and antique silver blend beautifully together by evoking a stylish design element of warm and cool tones that creates personality and character within the room.

Not only do the mixed finishes add visual impact, but when you pair Paletta brassware with a marble top console table, you create a stunning effect that immediately captures attention no matter how big or small the space. This singular update can revamp a dated master bath or enhance a bland powder room — no massive remodel necessary.

Light is another element that can redefine a space, yet it's often overlooked when approaching a room refresh. Remember to look at lighting from different perspectives. Analyze natural lighting against installed ambient, task and accent lighting. Note fixtures and consider the impact of updating sconces and shades that are no longer en vogue. It might be just what's needed in the various spaces throughout your home.

When you take a step back and take stock of your surroundings, do so with a fresh set of eyes and see the possibilities. A complete update may not be necessary. Do your research, focus on singular elements with the most impact, and invest in luxurious features that stand the test of time. With this approach, you can change any room's setting beautifully without committing to an entire renovation.



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Big, smart ideas for renovating smaller homes

(BPT) - While newly constructed homes are bigger than ever, most Americans still live in modestly sized or even small houses — and many of these owners are choosing to remodel rather than move into a bigger home.

More than half of all American houses were built before 1980, according to the National Association of Home Builders. At that time, the average new home size was slightly more than 1,700 square feet, U.S. Census Bureau data shows. Meanwhile, interest in remodeling is at an all-time high, according to Metrostudy.

Homeowners looking to renovate their average-sized homes in order to get more living space don’t have to build costly additions. Many modern remodeling tactics, tricks and tools are made to work well in smaller homes. Here are ways to get the most out of your home renovation:

Space-saving plumbing options

Plumbing can be problematic in any renovation, but adding plumbing in certain smaller-house locations can be especially challenging. Traditional plumbing may require you to open walls and floors to connect to existing drainage lines, or break through concrete to add toilets, showers and sinks when finishing a basement.

Above-floor plumbing can solve a number of small-space challenges. For example, you may decide to add a powder room in the unused space beneath a stairway. However, if the space is very small, a standard toilet with water tank and traditionally plumbed sink might not fit. In such a situation, a compact, one-piece macerating toilet like the Sanicompact from Saniflo installs quickly, easily and conveniently in tight spots.

Traditional plumbing can also be a challenge in renovations where you’re adding plumbing below a main level, such as installing a bathroom with a shower or even a second kitchen in a basement setting. In southern states, where most homes are built on slabs rather than with basements, adding any kind of traditional plumbing would require you to break open the concrete in order to add pipes — an expensive and risky undertaking.

However, a Sanistar one-piece, wall-mounted toilet with built-in macerator allows you to add a basement bathroom without cutting concrete. For adding sinks or showers, gray water pumps such as the Saniswift can be as compact as a small wastebasket, and can carry water away from new bathrooms or kitchens where no traditional plumbing exists.

Right-sizing utilities

If you’re adding a bathroom or kitchen in your average-sized, average-age home, it may also be a good idea to replace the water heater — especially if it's 10 or more years old. An older water heater may fail or worse, leak, causing damage to nearby floors and walls.

Modern tank water heaters are more energy efficient, but also larger as a result of the insulation needed to achieve greater efficiency. If you’re replacing a water heater in an attic that’s accessed through pull-down stairs or in a crawl space, or adding one in a closet or out-of-the-way corner, a traditional tank water heater might not fit.

Tankless water heaters require less room, solving space problems. Plus, they’re more energy efficient because they heat the water only when you need it, rather than using fuel to maintain the temperature in a large tank.

Natural light without sacrifice

If your home is older, it may have fewer or smaller windows than newly constructed homes. However, if you crave more natural light, you don’t have to sacrifice wall space to windows or incur the expense of opening a wall.

Skylights and tube skylights can bring more natural light into a home. Modern skylights are energy efficient and far less prone to leaks than older models. A standard skylight can easily be installed in rooms with direct roof access, and tube skylights can even bring natural light to ground-floor spaces. Plus, skylights allow you to preserve privacy in settings where it matters most, such as bathrooms.

Looking up

Older homes may have less floor space, but many older homes also have higher ceilings. Or, your smaller home may have a two-story family room or entryway. Using the extra height in your home to create storage space can allow you to free up floor space. For example, floor-to-ceiling shelves in a family room or entryway provide ample storage space.

Tall ceilings can also be an opportunity to add task lighting in work areas such as over kitchen islands, or to create design statements through the addition of exposed faux beams.

Smart renovations can help make your home feel bigger and function better for your family, no matter how big or small its square footage.



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5 kitchen upgrades to make your inner host...

(BPT) - You love entertaining and treating guests to delectable dishes and fun times. Unfortunately, your kitchen layout, appliances and even the faucet are so downright unappealing that the thought of planning and preparing a party menu is equally unpleasant.

What do you do when you’re built to entertain, but your kitchen is not? Renovate!

Reason to renovate

The kitchen is a favorite room to remodel, and a minor kitchen refresh can return more than 80 percent of your investment at the time of resale, according to Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value report. But ROI isn’t the top reason people renovate kitchens. According to the 2017 Houzz Kitchen Trends Study, most people who remodel their kitchen do so because they just can’t stand it anymore.

So, if you love playing host but don’t like the kitchen that stands in the way of your entertaining, revamping the room is the perfect way to make it more party-friendly.

Renovating for entertainment

Here are five upgrades that can help make your kitchen the perfect platform for entertaining:

1. Give yourself some space. If you’ve decided to go all in for your kitchen renovation, and have an older home with a closed-off kitchen, consider opening the space to the home’s main living area. If your home already has an open floor plan, consider ways to tie the kitchen more intimately to the living area, such as continuing one style of flooring through both rooms, or repeating an accent color in the kitchen and adjacent common space.

2. Work smarter with a new faucet. The sink is a key point in the workflow triangle for any kitchen, and the faucet should take center stage in this performance. A contemporary faucet with task-driven spray patterns is a must for entertaining, but wouldn’t an extra pair of hands also be great to have with the flurry of pre-party activities? An easy and quick solution is a hands-free faucet, such as the American Standard Beale kitchen faucet with Selectronic technology, which allows you to turn water on or off without the need to touch the faucet. This touchless technology makes food prep easier, while also helping to prevent cross-contamination of foods.

Taking hands-free technology one step further, the addition of a sleek, European-styled GROHE kitchen faucet with Foot Control allows you to control the flow of water with a tap of your toe at the base of the sink cabinet. Now it will be super simple to fill a big pot or rinse off a large skillet, using both hands to hold it securely while turning on the water at the same time.

3. Upgrade appliances. Depending on your budget, you can find appliances to help with virtually every aspect of entertaining, from dishwashers that entirely eliminate the need to pre-rinse, to refrigerators that help compile your grocery list. Even on a modest budget, you can improve on your current appliances, especially if they are older and less energy efficient. Double stoves are great for cooking a lot of food for large groups of guests, warming drawers keep food warm until ready to serve, and beverage drawers ensure you’ll always have enough refreshments for everyone.

4. Choose cleaning-friendly surfaces. Did you ever wonder why stainless steel sinks continue to be a popular choice in kitchens, regardless of the room’s decor? It’s because stainless steel sinks not only look good, they also retain their beauty longer by resisting stains and scratches. Plus, drop-in and undermount stainless steel sinks from American Standard offer both single and double bowl options for simplifying kitchen tasks. Picking dirt and germ-busting surfaces like stainless steel, stone countertops, ceramic tile, etc., can help make it easier to keep your kitchen clean, leaving you more time for entertaining.

5. Create an island paradise. The standalone island has become a must-have for entertainment-minded homeowners. An island can serve multiple purposes when throwing a party, from providing extra workspace or hosting a second sink, to giving guests a seat closer to the action. You can even choose a multi-level island that will allow you to interact with guests while concealing work areas and sinks from view.

If your kitchen has been holding you back from blossoming into the host of your dreams, these easy upgrades can help the room better match your personality and entertainment needs.



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Housework may be a key to improving your...

(BPT) - Cleaning the bathroom and emptying the dishwasher isn’t at the top of a couple’s “To Do Together” list, but it may be the true language of love. In fact, a recent survey from home appliance leader LG Electronics found most Americans (52%) get turned on by their partner doing housework. In fact, those who do chores with their partner (60%) are nearly twice as likely as those who don’t (37%) to believe a person who is good at chores is good in bed.

So what’s the key to a better relationship? Communication and housework.

That couldn’t be truer for celebrity couple Rachel Zoe, renowned designer and editor-in-chief of The Zoe Report, and her husband Rodger Berman, president of Rachel Zoe Inc., who have been together for 26 years. Rachel and Rodger are proof that communication and managing housework together could lead to a happier relationship.

“Rodger and I have young boys, so there is always something to clean or pick up around the house,” shared Zoe. “We work as a team to tackle the different housework, so we can spend more time together.”

Over their decades-long relationship, Zoe and Berman have some advice for how to handle disagreements over housework:

1. Divide and conquer

Splitting up household responsibilities makes it quicker and easier to get housework done. While one person prepares dinner, the other can set the table and then clear it afterwards. This helps couples feel like they’re both doing their part and no one is putting in more effort than the other.

“We love to entertain and there is always a lot of preparation before guests arrive,” Zoe said. “Rodger and I divide up the responsibilities, which makes it so much easier and faster. For example, I’ll cook and he’ll load the dishes so everything is clean and ready when people arrive.”

2. Find the right tools to make tasks easier

“When we have friends and family over, we want to spend time with them and not worry about running around doing a million things and cleaning up,” notes Zoe. “We make sure we have the right tools to help us — our newest trick of the trade is the LG QuadWash dishwasher. It looks amazingly chic in our home but it also makes our lives easier. Because it has four powerful spraying arms, instead of the traditional two, we don’t have to worry about prewashing or rewashing the dishes.”

Technology can help couples tackle cleaning and maintain their home together. Set reminders for whose turn it is to clean out the refrigerator or use the LG SmartThinQ® app to monitor and check when the dishwasher is done. Using technology can help couples spend more time together and less time cleaning.

3. Specialize according to priorities and strengths

Specializing is one way to ensure everyone’s priorities are met and housework gets done. Some people would rather clean the bathroom than load a dishwasher, while others don’t mind a layer of dust on furniture but can’t abide a sink full of dirty dishes overnight. The party who hates bathroom cleaning can be responsible for all dishwasher duties, including making sure the sink is dish-free at the end of the day. Meanwhile, the other party can tackle bathroom duties.

Zoe and Berman prioritize housework based on the other’s preferences. “I love cooking and it’s important to me to always serve good meals, so I handle all the cooking,” she says. “Rodger actually likes doing the dishes, and he knows I can’t sleep if there are dirty dishes in the sink, so he always makes sure the dishes are loaded in the dishwasher before we go to bed.”

4. Never use housework as a tool for revenge

One in four people surveyed by LG said they have purposely messed up a partner’s laundry after a fight. Zoe admits when she’s angry with Berman she may not take the throw pillows off his side of the bed, or make his nightly frozen yogurt. However, she also verbalizes to him what she’s upset about.

"Sharing responsibilities has always been an effortless part of our relationship," Zoe says. "That's the way we have always approached our lives. We have always thought of ourselves as a team."



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5 fabulous deck fix-ups

(BPT) - Are you tired of having a deck you’re no longer proud to show off? You’re not alone. According to the 2017 U.S. Houzz Landscape Trends Study, one of the top reasons motivating homeowners to tackle outdoor projects like deck upgrades is their open-air space is past its prime.

If you’re like surveyed respondents and ready to return your fixer-upper to its former glory, the process may seem daunting. Fortunately, a little inspiration is all you need to transform your deck into a backyard beauty. With these fabulous fix-ups, your deck will be re-energized in no time.

1. Refresh your color palette

One of the easiest ways to transform a ho-hum deck into a stylish oasis is an updated color palette. Refreshing the look of outdoor accessories and furnishings is a simple and cost-effective solution. MidwestLiving.com says, “Focusing on one or two colors adds a unifying feel to your décor. Punchy blue and green furnishings brighten the deck while not distracting from the view.” You can even swap out fabrics, accent pillows and cushions as the seasons change to keep your outdoor room looking fresh all year long.

If you’re increasing the size of your deck, consider choosing decking in a color that complements your home. It will help ease the visual transition from indoors to out and create a beautiful base for planters and deck furnishings. If you are looking to make a statement, consider varying the color of deck boards, inserting feature strips or using contrasting railings to frame your outdoor room.

2. Landscape your deck-escape

To create a deck-escape that draws guests in, integrate landscaping into your design. Start small by lining your deck with planters, curving flowerbeds and grasses. A punchy mix of seasonal annuals and perennials will help encourage visitors to explore your outdoor living space. Or, go a step further and use today’s versatile, moisture-resistant composite decking products to turn your deck into an extension of your garden. With proper installation, the boards can easily curve around trees or flower beds to blend your deck into its natural surroundings.

3. Provide pretty privacy

There’s no reason to give up style and comfort on your deck just because you want privacy, especially if your neighbors are within close quarters. Trellises, lattices and vertical gardens can screen an exposed view and freshen up your outdoor room. Nature can also act as a beautiful barrier. Slender evergreens like arborvitae can establish a relaxed sense of privacy and create a soft, lush backdrop. You can even add different shade-providing trees near your deck, creating a secluded space with a more intimate feel.

4. Build a beautiful addition

If your outdoor room is limiting the number of guests you can entertain, a new deck addition may be just the right fix. You’ll gain extra square feet and valuable space for themed outdoor areas. Try bumping your deck out on one side to make a basic square deck more interesting and gain room for an al fresco dining area or a spa-themed deck nook with a hot tub. With the right decking materials, you can even add a meandering garden path deck or curved getaway encircling a water feature.

“Composite decking with a plastic and wood blend throughout the board like ChoiceDek can be ripped, routed and bent to fit nearly any deck design,” says Randy Gottlieb, president of A.E.R.T. “The boards are easier to curve than capped composites and traditional wood planks. They give homeowners a lot more design flexibility at an affordable price point.”

5. Create on-deck destinations

To give your outdoor room a lasting edge, create on-deck destination areas that go beyond eating and socializing. Love gardening? Build a vertical garden or use extra deck boards to create planter boxes that allow you to pass on your “green thumb” to your children. If you’re a DIYer, use complementary decking to create a corn hole set for birthday parties and gatherings. With a spark of inspiration, the possibilities for reinventing your outdoor space are virtually endless.



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How to Tackle a Dust-Free Renovation

(BPT) - Kristen Johnson* loved her home, her family and their active lifestyle. She’d never want to change a thing — except for her foyer and adjoining dining room. When she and her husband first moved into their home, they had intended to refinish the hardwood floors in those areas in a darker stain to better fit their style, but life got in the way. Twelve years, two boys and countless birthday parties, pets and indoor soccer games later, their floors were covered in scuffs, scratches and stains, and some of their walls needed repair. To complicate matters even further, they had a wraparound staircase with a wood-tone banister that would also need to be refinished if they decided to change their floor.

With their big family reunion and a house full of people just weeks away, Johnson and her husband knew it was time to make a change. However, they couldn’t afford to disrupt their busy schedules, and they didn’t want to deal with the hassle of renovation dust getting all over their ceiling fans, cupboards or worse — especially with their son’s dust allergies. They knew if they decided to take on this renovation project, they’d need it finished quickly, and they’d need the entire project to be as dust-free as possible.

What’s the big deal about renovation dust? Beyond creating a huge mess, renovation dust is also a health concern. As any homeowner who has embarked on an interior renovation project knows, the resultant dust gets everywhere — even inside closed cabinets and in adjacent rooms. However, as problematic as the mess is, dust-related health hazards are of even greater concern, particularly to allergy sufferers. Traditional methods of mitigating dust usually involve extensive prep work, like hanging plastic sheeting and taping off doors, or doing a thorough post-renovation top-to-bottom cleaning. Both options are extremely time-consuming.

Is there a better way to handle renovation dust? There is a better way to handle renovation dust: by collecting it right at the source like the pros do. Professional contractors are used to dealing with renovation dust, and given the volume of work they do, they create dust far more frequently and in much greater volumes than the average homeowner or DIYer. Rather than spend valuable time on prep work or post-project cleanup or suffer through the use of uncomfortable dust masks, they use dust collection tools that capture and contain dust immediately as it’s created, before it can become a mess or airborne health hazard.

How Johnson tackled her dust-free renovation. Because of their tight timeline, Johnson and her husband decided to take on some of their renovation themselves using supplies purchased at their local hardware store, but they let the professionals handle the tricky floor/banister redo.

To repair their drywall, they patched the damaged areas using joint compound and a drywall sander, which together cost about $130. To make the sanding process dust-free, they added a Dust Deputy, which they connected directly to the drywall sander and to their wet/dry vacuum. They found that this combination captured virtually all the dust generated by the sanding. They noticed no dust in the air, and the Dust Deputy prevented the fine drywall dust from clogging their vacuum filter.

Even though they had the flooring contractor tackle the floor and banister, they saved a few dollars by removing the varnish from the banister and other hard-to-reach areas themselves. To do this, they applied a gel varnish remover using a brush (together about $20), then scraped the wet varnish residue using a Viper Scraper attached to their Dust Deputy and wet/dry vacuum. The scraper captured the residue, and the Dust Deputy contained it for disposal, without it ever reaching, or damaging, their vacuum.

Their big splurge was on the floor refinishing, which they left to the pros to tackle (about $2,500). To keep that process dust-free, they selected a dust-free contractor in their area who used a cyclonic Oneida Vortex dust collection system with HEPA filtration. In the end, they finished the project virtually dust-free and just in time for their family reunion, and they were very pleased with the results!

*Kristen’s last name has been changed for privacy.



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Is your family expanding? Protect what matters...

(BPT) - You may have chosen the perfect color palette and all of your nursery furniture, but have you thought about some key safety checks?

“The arrival of a baby means you have to take a look at your home in a whole new light,” said Tarsila Wey, marketing director for First Alert, the most trusted brand in home safety. “Take the time now to help ensure your home is safe and secure.”

First Alert has outlined some crucial tasks to accomplish before the little one makes his or her appearance:

Maintain crib safety

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two-thirds of children’s deaths under the age of one are caused by suffocation. Make sure that, when prepping the nursery, the crib meets safety standards, and avoid loose bedding or soft toys in the crib. After the baby arrives, the infant should sleep alone and be placed on his or her back on a firm surface.

Check your smoke alarms

Smoke alarms help protect your family, but in order to do so the alarms need to be present — and working. Install a working smoke alarm in the nursery and ensure that the rest of the home is properly equipped. The National Fire Protection Association recommends smoke alarms inside every bedroom, outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home, including the basement.

Residential smoke alarms need to be replaced at least every 10 years. To find out whether it’s time to replace the smoke alarms in your home, simply look on the back of the alarms where the date of manufacture is marked. The smoke alarm should be replaced 10 years from that date (not the date of purchase or installation).

Protect from the “Silent Killer”

Often dubbed “the silent killer,” carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless and odorless gas that is impossible to detect without an alarm. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, CO poisoning is the leading cause of accidental poisoning in the United States and is responsible for an average of 450 deaths each year. Standard CO alarms are designed to alert people to high levels of CO (30-70 parts per million), which can be fatal.

However, lower levels of CO have also been proven to be harmful to infants. Fully protect your newborn from both high and low levels of CO with the Onelink by First Alert Environment Monitor, which provides protection for those most vulnerable to CO levels as low as 9 parts per million, and peace of mind for parents. Compatible with Apple HomeKit and Alexa Skills, it also monitors temperature and humidity, and notifies users of changing conditions.

Update the escape plan

It is important to plan and practice an escape plan for your home in the event of a fire. According to an NFPA survey, only one of every three American households has actually developed and practiced a home fire escape plan. This is even more important with the addition of a new member to your family. As a family, walk through the home and inspect all possible exits and escape routes. Identify two ways out of each room, including windows and doors. For the second story, place escape ladders near windows, and practice setting it up so you’ll be able to use it correctly and quickly in an emergency. Make sure everyone understands the plan, with special attention to carrying the newborn. Choose an outside meeting place that is a safe distance from your home, and make sure to practice your escape plan twice a year — and before the baby comes.

Create an emergency call list

Even though everything we need is on our smartphones these days, when a babysitter or nanny is with your infant, they might not be as prepared in case of an emergency — and you might not be either! Having an emergency contact list readily available can potentially save time and make everything go a little more smoothly when there is a crisis. Make sure the list includes family numbers, poison control, non-emergency numbers for police and fire departments, and neighbors’ phone numbers.

To learn more about fire and carbon monoxide safety and the Onelink Environment Monitor, visit FirstAlert.com or FirstAlert.com/Onelink.



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5 smart technology upgrades to make the...

(BPT) - Smart technology has found a place in virtually every room in the home, even the one where we take care of our most low-tech needs. In fact, thanks to innovations like sensor-operated, self-cleaning toilets, moisture-sensing ventilation fans and digital shower controls, it’s possible to turn an ordinary bathroom into the brainiest room in the house.

If you’re ready to upgrade your bathroom with the latest smart technology, here are five elements to put at the top of your must-have list:

1. Smarter shower

From showerheads with light and sound, to digital temperature and water pressure controls that you can set from your smartphone, an array of high-tech features is available to elevate the simple act of getting clean to the level of a luxurious, high-tech experience.

You can find something for every preference. Love to shower at night? Install a showerhead that features its own lighting. Dislike fiddling with the controls every morning to get just the right temperature? Opt for digital temperature controls that allow for multiple pre-settings for individual users. Focused on conservation? Try a showerhead that senses what you’re doing — washing your hair, shaving your legs — and automatically adjusts the water flow accordingly.

2. Intelligent toilet

A toilet that cleans itself is a dream come true for many people, but TOTO boosts the intelligence of its NEOREST AC wall-mount toilet even higher. The intelligent toilet features a WASHLET personal cleansing system that uses warm, aerated water for comfort, a warm air dryer and a heated seat. An automatic opening and closing function and auto-flush ensure you never have to touch the toilet.

The toilet keeps itself (and the environment in your bathroom) clean with a flushing system that uses an environmentally friendly combination of gravity and high-speed water jets to spin away waste, while an in-bowl catalytic deodorizer helps keep the air fresh. The bowl itself is glazed with titanium dioxide and zirconium, which when activated by the toilet’s integrated UV light, creates molecular reactions that help keep the bowl free from visible and invisible waste.

Not only will you not need harsh detergents to clean the toilet, it’s is also WaterSense labelled, and uses just 1.28 gallons per flush (gpf) for solid waste and 0.9 gpf for liquid. Visit www.totousa.com to learn more.

3. Versatile ventilation

Bathroom ventilation fans serve practical and cosmetic purposes. Ventilation removes moisture and humidity that could promote the growth of mold and mildew, and can help exhaust unpleasant odors. Of course, not everyone puts ventilation to its optimum use, and that’s where a new style of bathroom fan comes in.

Ventilation fans that sense humidity — such as after someone has taken a long, hot shower — turn on automatically to help remove excess moisture from the room. Some fans can communicate wirelessly with wall switches or with an app that allows you to control the fan from your smartphone.

4. Multi-tasking mirror

Mirrors and medicine cabinets aren’t just for reflection anymore. Now you can kit out your smart bathroom with mirrors that feature built-in TVs and can communicate with your home’s security cameras, and medicine cabinets with defogging features that can let you get to your post-shower shave faster.

Refrigerated medicine cabinets are perfect for preserving delicate drugs and cosmetics, and you can find both mirrors and medicine cabinets with built-in USB ports for charging your devices.

5. Advanced accessories

Of course accessories can be additions that put any bathroom over the top, and you never have to settle for ordinary accessories in your smarter bathroom. Enhance the usability and convenience of your bathroom with items like:

* A small robot that mops floor tiles automatically.

* A Bluetooth-enabled toothbrush that communicates with your smartphone to monitor how well you’ve brushed.

* A smart scale that helps you track your weight and health progress.

* Touch-free soap dispensers.

* A towel rack that uses hot air and ultraviolet light to dry towels and keep them fresh longer.

By upgrading to tech-savvy versions of everyday bathroom elements like toilets, faucets and showers, it’s possible to make your bathroom not only one of the most-used rooms in the house, but the smartest as well.



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Must-have elements for building a sustainable...

(BPT) - When someone builds a home for you, you have the opportunity to make it as sustainable, eco-friendly and energy-efficient as possible. Not only are sustainable homes more cost-effective over the long term, they have a smaller environmental impact, and can be more appealing to homebuyers when you’re ready to sell and move.

In fact, more than half of Realtors report consumers are interested in sustainability, according to the National Association of Realtors’ REALTORS and Sustainability report. What’s more, 70 percent say a home’s efficient use of energy is important to potential buyers.

If you’re having a home built for you, it’s the perfect time to think about sustainability and energy efficiency. The experts at Coleman(R) heating and cooling offer some points to consider as you’re planning your sustainable home:

* Choose a builder who specializes in sustainable homes. While virtually all home builders today will offer eco-friendly or energy-efficient features, sustainable home builders take a whole-house approach. Their plans should include more than just high-efficiency windows and appliances, and lots of insulation. Sustainability planning should also incorporate elements like the position of the home on its lot, number and position of windows in the home, and shade and ventilation, among other considerations.

* Heating and cooling typically represent the largest portion of a home’s energy consumption. When choosing an HVAC system for your sustainable home, choose an option like Coleman(R) Echelon(TM) Variable Capacity Residential Systems, which use leading-edge technology to tune the system’s temperature settings and performance for optimum function give exterior conditions. The systems also self-monitor to ensure they operate at the highest level of efficiency while providing maximum heating and cooling comfort. Visit www.colemanac.com/comfort to learn more.

* The orientation of your home can enhance heating and cooling efficiency. For example, if you live in a colder region, placing your home with the maximum number of windows facing south can allow natural light to help heat your home in the winter. If you live in a warm climate, minimizing the number of windows on the west side of the home and planting shade trees on that side can help with cooling. Plant a tree that loses its leaves in the winter, and you can allow light to reach that side of the house when the weather is colder.

* The more compact a home is, the more energy efficient it will be. You don’t have to build a tiny home to achieve a more efficient design. A two-story home can be more compact and energy efficient than a sprawling single-story design.

* Insulation and air sealing can greatly improve a home’s energy efficiency. Talk to your builder about the best kind of insulation for your needs, and learn about R value and how it affects the efficiency of insulation. Discuss how the builder seals potential air leaks in the home, paying close attention to windows, doors and spots where pipes or wires enter the home.

* Finally, a truly sustainable home is one that makes maximum use of recycled and recyclable materials. Talk to your builder about the construction materials they will use. Are they sustainably sourced? Will they be able to be recycled someday down the road when they are no longer usable in your home?

Demand for sustainable homes is likely to continue growing, according to the NAR report. Choosing to build your new home with sustainable materials, systems and practices can ensure you reap the rewards of a more environmentally friendly home now and in the future.



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Tricks to customize a kitchen on a budget

(BPT) - Who wouldn’t want a kitchen customized to meet their specific tastes and needs? A complete kitchen renovation can cost tens of thousands of dollars, but you don’t have to spend a bundle to achieve a custom effect. A few modest investments can help make your kitchen work well and look great.

Here are ways to affordably customize your kitchen:

Get creative with cabinets

Completely replacing cabinets can be costly, but it’s possible to create a custom look with the cabinets you already have. Customization tricks to try:

* Paint cabinets a trendy color, like dark blue. Or, paint one set of cabinets, such as those under an island, a different color.

* Remove the doors from one cupboard to create an open effect where you can display prized showpieces. Further accent the look by painting the back of the cupboard a contrasting color.

* Replace dated or dull hardware with drawer pulls and knobs that speak to your personal design tastes. For example, if you love a vintage look, replace metal hardware with glass or ceramic knobs.

Freshen up the faucet

Cabinet hardware isn’t the only “jewelry” in the kitchen. The faucet can also be a design focal point that looks as good as it works. If yours is old, basic or just not to your taste, replacing the kitchen faucet with a newer model that speaks to your style can help affordably reinvent the entire room. Plus, a new faucet can provide functions and features that will make your kitchen more usable.

For example, the Tournant faucet by Kohler combines traditional design with modern industrial elements, so it works well with a variety of kitchen design themes. A three-function, pull-down spray head lets you put the water exactly where you need it, while a special BerrySoft setting is gentle enough for washing fruits and vegetables.

If a more vintage look appeals to you, Kohler has recently added a bridge model faucet to its popular Artifacts line. Reminiscent of turn-of-the-century kitchen and bar faucets, the deck-mounted bridge faucet works with either lever or six-prong handles for temperature controls, and features a dual-function sidespray. Visit www.us.kohler.com to learn more.

Enliven your lighting

Good light is essential for a kitchen to function well, but it’s common for kitchens to have just one overhead light and maybe a pendant or two over a breakfast bar. Replacing dated fixtures with newer ones that suit your personal style is easy, but what can you do if you want more light without the expense of paying someone to install additional wiring?

* Replace a standard ceiling light with track lights. They require no additional wiring and you can position lights along the track to put illumination where you want it.

* Install under-cabinet lights that can easily plug into an existing counter-level electrical outlet.

* Place a swing-arm task lamp over work areas, so you can aim light where you need it most while working. The lamp can easily plug into a wall outlet.

Accentuate accessories

Accessories are the finishing touch of personalization in any room, including the kitchen. However, since the kitchen needs to be high-functioning, look for ways to accessorize that also enhance your kitchen’s ability to work for you.

* Every kitchen has small appliances that get regular use, such as toasters, food processors, blenders, etc. If your toaster sits out on the counter, why not turn it into part of the design theme by selecting an appliance in a bright color to match your decor?

* A matching set of potholders or dish towels hung from a hook beneath a cabinet or on the side of a cupboard not only puts a much-needed item close at hand, they can add decorative flare.

* Place a bright, cheerful area rug in front of the sink or prep area. The rug will not only perk up the space, it helps cushion your joints while you stand in one spot working.

* A pot rack above an island provides much-needed storage space for large pots and pans, while adding a homey touch to the kitchen.

Customizing a kitchen doesn’t have to be costly or require you to sacrifice any functionality. With a few smart updates, you can cost-effectively create the personalized kitchen of your dreams.



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Articles last updated at Nov 20, 2017 06:02:05am.
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