April 2017

The Ultimate Guide to Funky Home Smells

The Ultimate Guide to Funky Home Smells


There are two definitions of funky: 1) something that’s cool, and 2) something that smells bad. For our purposes, we’ll be talking about the latter—and the tragic consequences if this stench is emanating from your home.

The problem is, you may be so accustomed to your home’s smell that you don’t even notice when your guests are knocked off their feet when they enter your home. And whether you’re just entertaining or are hoping to sell your home, off-putting smells can be a huge turnoff, even if your home is immaculate otherwise. To help, here’s your ultimate guide to all the odors that can assail your home and how to get rid of them once and for all.

Rotten food

Cause: Your refrigerator and garbage disposal are basically burping up decaying food.

What to do: Purge your refrigerator on a regular basis, and clean the shelves and drawers to remove rotten spilled liquid. Yes, this is gross. Do it.

“Use distilled white vinegar or hydrogen peroxide and a microfiber cloth,” says cleaning expert Leslie Reichert. To rid your sink of stink, clear rotting food from the blades of your garbage disposal by putting ice cubes down it with some salt and frozen lemon peels.


Animal odors

Cause: The most common nose-crinkling smells in a home are caused by the furry friends that live with us, usually because they don’t always relieve themselves where they should. Odors can also be due to a lingering stench on animal fur, says Frank Lesh, executive director of the American Society of Home Inspectors.

What to do: If a cat or dog uses a carpet as a toilet, use a pet enzyme removal product such as Resolve on the offending area to remove all trace of the scent and find an effective way to deter your pet from a repeat performance in a spot it may consider its own.

For litter boxes, sprinkling a bit of baking soda can work wonders. If shedding is your nemesis, vacuuming the fur (off the floor and furniture) and spot-deodorizing should do the trick.

If all of the above do not work, removal of the offending furniture or rug is often the only way to resolve the issue, says Lesh.


Smelly carpets

Cause: Think of carpets as large sponges that absorb all the smells in your home—from pet odors to sweaty feet to pungent cooking, and beyond.

What to do: For large olfactory challenges, call in a steam cleaner. For smaller yet troublesome areas, put some cheap vodka in a spray bottle and lightly mist the carpeting.

“When the vodka evaporates, it will take the smells with it,” Reichert says.


Stinky AC

Cause: Your air conditioner dehumidifies the air as it cools, but stagnant water can collect in an AC unit, allowing mold and mildew to grow in the lingering moisture. This can result in a smell similar to sweaty extremities wafting from air vents, says Richard Ciresi, a multiple-unit franchisee of Aire Serv in Louisville, KY. And, in addition, if someone in your home smokes, the fumes can get pulled into the condenser coil and recycled into your home every time you run the AC, says Ciresi.

What to do: A quick cleaning and repair to help excess water drain properly should remedy a mildew issue. Since a dirty filter can also harbor mold growth, replace filters regularly. To banish  lingering smoke smells, clean the coil.



Cause: Water’s the culprit! “Basement smell” can severely affect the structural integrity of your home as well as your health. Although water can accumulate anywhere, areas where dampness tends to hide include the attic, basement, and bathrooms.

“If you have a water leak behind a wall or under a floor, wood rot may occur along with mold and mildew odors,” says Lesh.

What to do: Finding small leaks early can help prevent serious water damage and offending stenches.

“I recommend looking at the underside of the attic roof at least twice a year or after heavy rain/snowfall in the spring,” says Lesh. In a basement or crawl space, water accumulation is often caused by poor drainage from the roof. Keep your gutters clean and the downspouts flowing away from the foundation. And always dry out damp areas with a humidifier.


Burnt … something

Cause: You may smell a truly weird odor the first time you fire up your furnace in the fall. But relax, it’s typically from the accumulated dirt that falls into the floor ducts, says Lesh. This scent may permeate the entire house for a while when the debris first heats up.

What to do: Simple—clean the ducts before you turn your heat on each year.


A general stale scent

Cause: Stagnant air holds on to dust, dander, and dust mites.

“This usually happens in the summer and winter as we all keep our homes closed up because of air conditioning and heating,” says Reichert.

What to do: You can battle stale air just by opening a few windows once a week to increase air flow.

“Your home needs to have the air exchanged; and if you open some windows, you allow fresh air into the house and remove those stale odors,” says Reichert.

Article by: Margaret Heidenry
Article found: https://goo.gl/AcdY1g

How to Regrout Tile in Your Kitchen, Bathroom, and Beyond

How to Regrout Tile in Your Kitchen, Bathroom, and Beyond


If you have tile in your bathroom, kitchen, or other area of your home, sooner or later you will want to know how to regrout it. And for good reason: Grout—that cement filler between your tiles—can get discolored or dirty, despite your best efforts to clean it. And over time, grout can break apart, leaving a crumbly mess that might also allow water to seep underneath and do some serious damage to your floor.

“Regrouting is necessary to reseal and restore the appearance of tile,” explains J.B. Sassano, president of Mr. Handyman, a repair service in Ann Arbor, MI.

 Thankfully, as long as you’re dealing with straight grout lines and not mosaic-style tiles or stone, removing old grout and regrouting tile is a straightforward job that simply requires the right tools and step-by-step action plan.

Materials you’ll need

  • Grout (premixed or dry)
  • Grout sealer

Tools you’ll need

  • Grout saw or oscillating tool
  • Vacuum
  • Bucket
  • Small trowel to mix grout
  • Grout float
  • Sponge and rags

How to remove existing grout

Step No. 1: You can get the job done with your choice of a couple of different tools. One option is a manual grout saw, which will require you to apply a bit of elbow grease. Or you can use an oscillating multitool with a carbide blade. Whichever tool you choose, the process for removal is the same.

One option for grout removal

“Cut away old grout, digging a minimum of one-eighth-inch deep for thin porcelain wall tile and deeper for thick, ceramic floor tile for the best adherence,” Sassano explains. “Be sure to avoid shaving down the tile.”

Remove grout with a carbide blade on a hand or electric saw.

Step No. 2: Fully clear out the old grout, then sweep the area with a broom to remove dust and debris. Be sure to do a thorough removal, as leaving behind any remnants of the old grout could interfere with application of the new grout.

Clean up the old grout debris.

Step No. 3: Once you’ve removed the old grout, you can start prepping a new batch of the paste in a bucket. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

“The grout should be as thick as peanut butter,” says Sassano. “Pay special attention to matching the grout to the tile color. Or if you’re replacing tile grout in only one area, you’ll want to match the color to the ‘aged’ appearance of the existing grout.”

Mix grout according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Step No. 4: You’ll want to get out the grout float, a hard rubber pad with a handle on one side, which serves as a tool to spread the stuff.

“Apply grout with the float, pushing it deep into the lines and making sure to cover all areas,” Sassano advises.

Apply paste the with grout float.

Step No. 5: “After grout is applied, wipe tiles clean with a damp sponge,” Sassano recommends. “Be sure to not let it dry before wiping away.”

You might also notice a thin layer of dried grout, which is called “grout haze.” This is a normal side effect of continuing to wipe away the grout with a soiled sponge. If you see it, you’ll need to wipe everything down, clean your water and sponges, and do it again, Sassano explains.

Once everything dries without haze, you’re done with the application part.

Clean the area around the grout lines after application.

Step No. 6: Grout is porous, so once it’s fully dried, you should use a sealer as the final “top coat” to keep it looking clean and to prevent mold and bacteria from seeping in. Grout sealer comes in bottles that have a brush attached to the tip, so you can squeeze the bottle and brush on the sealer at the same time. For larger areas, grout sealer also comes in spray bottles: Just spray it all over and wipe up the excess with a sponge.

Article by: Maressa Brown
Article found: https://goo.gl/3mHlJg

Avoid These 6 Deplorable Curb Appeal Decisions If You Want to Sell Your Home

Avoid These 6 Deplorable Curb Appeal Decisions If You Want to Sell Your Home


It’s difficult to put a dollar value on your curb appeal. No one can quite agree on exactly what you’ll get for slaving away in the front yard a few weekends before you put your home up for sale.

Some estimates claim that a well-landscaped lawn could increase the value of your home by 5% to 20%. But other return on investment estimates are even larger—anywhere from 100% to even a whopping 1,000%. Whoa!

Doesn’t it make you want to break out the gardening gloves and hop to it? Good! Because if you skip bumping up your curb appeal before putting your home on the market, the only person who shows up to your open house might be your real estate agent.

Curb appeal is your home’s first impression on prospective buyers and, as we all know, first impressions matter. Make a big mistake in the presentation, and you’ll have a hard time getting buyers through the door.

But how do you know if you’re making a big mistake? It depends. Check out how close you are to these curb appeal disasters.

1. The outside doesn’t match the inside

Ugly Infill in College Hill

Chain-link fence, overgrown lawn, no landscaping … even if your house is gorgeous inside, potential buyers might not be able to see its beauty if they need a weed whacker to get to the front door.

We’ll repeat it: First impressions matter. No matter how great your personality is, you wouldn’t go on a first date without brushing your teeth and hair and putting on pants (we hope). So you shouldn’t put your home on the market without a little TLC, either.

“There is nothing worse than seeing pictures of a home’s beautiful interior online only to find that they completely neglected the outside of their home,” says Liz MacDonald, Philadelphia-based home stager and host of the web series Shelf Help.

2. Overflowing (or visible) trash cans


Trash, shockingly enough, is a nonstarter for most home buyers. Obviously, garbage spilling over your lawn is a big no-no. But even the sight of trash cans on the curb can be a turnoff.

“Make sure to keep those trash bins out of sight and as empty as possible at all times,” MacDonald says. “The last thing you want buyers to think about when making a first impression is the trash.”

If you need to move out before the home sells, make sure to check in on things regularly (or have a friend or neighbor do it for you). Movers may leave stuff behind or the neighbor’s trash may blow into your yard—things happen—just don’t let buyers see it.

3. The half-finished house


Unless you’re selling your house as is or as a tear-down, don’t leave any outdoor home improvement projects incomplete. If the first thing that buyers see is an unfinished paint job or patchy roofing, odds are good they’ll assume the inside is unfinished as well and just keep on driving.

4. An overly unique sense of style


Love your bright violet front door? Think your flock of pink flamingos is delightfully kitsch? Are you certain your giant dinosaur-shaped mailbox is so you? We get it. Being able to display a style all your own is one of the best aspects of homeownership.

That is, until you go to sell your house.

“Keeping items like lawn art or ornaments is too specific to appeal to the masses,” MacDonald says.

Rein it in on the inside and the outside, otherwise potential buyers will just see a whole lot of weekend work ahead.

“Your best bet is to go neutral to appeal to the broadest range of buyers,” MacDonald says. That means no bright colors, no unusual trim choices, and no DIY garage-door mural (even if it is kind of adorable).

5. The barren wasteland


One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to do nothing at all. No matter how clean, updated, and sellable your house is, there’s something extremely off-putting about not having any landscaping.

Houses with nothing green going on just seem, well, naked. And you don’t even have to do much—or spend much—to make your yard pop.

“Modern and minimal is always the way to go,” MacDonald says.

Add some simple shrubs that are native to your area, a few flower beds or fruit trees for some color, and voila—you’ve got curb appeal.

6. The overcrowded porch

Lawn Ornaments Gone Wild

A big, comfy porch is like catnip to buyers on the prowl, but only if you’ve done it right. If your porch is overflowing with large chairs, planters, and hanging baskets, buyers are going to feel claustrophobic—not cozy.

“Keeping it simple is key,” MacDonald says. “You want to showcase the space without any clutter or extra pieces of furniture that don’t function specifically for the purpose of enjoying your porch.”

Article by: Angela Colley
Article found: https://goo.gl/cHxpyr

7 Important Things Home Sellers Often Forget to Do

7 Important Things Home Sellers Often Forget to Do


When you’re selling your home there’s so much to do: find a Realtor®, do touch-ups, get that balky air conditioner fixed, look into staging… It’s no wonder that sometimes things fall between the cracks. Big things. (We’re not pointing fingers, promise!) Our arsenal of experts—aka real estate agents who have worked with many home sellers—identify the to-do’s that sellers typically overlook. We promise you, these tasks are well worth the time it will take to complete them (which isn’t very long at all).

Heed this sound advice, and there’s a good chance selling your house won’t be nearly as stressful as everyone tells you it is.

To-do No. 1: Google your address

Not all sellers scour the Internet to find out what’s being said about their property, but they should. Nearly all buyers—90%—search online during their hunt for a home, according to the National Association of Realtors. You should be aware of what your online listing looks like, since it will influence the kinds of concerns buyers will have, says Avery Boyce, a Realtor with Compass Real Estate in Washington, D.C.

“Is the site’s estimated value very different from your asking price? It might be because tax records have the wrong information about the number of bedrooms or bathrooms your house has, and this is easily fixed,” Boyce says. Consider this too: Google Maps’ street view of your property may not show improvements that you’ve made, so you’ll want to be sure to include those updates in your listing.

To-do No. 2: Account for improvements and issues

“If you’ve owned your home for a while, make a list of all the problems you’ve solved while you’ve lived there,” says Boyce. This could include chimney fires, water damage, or a flood in the basement. Whether you solved the problem or not, you should disclose this information to the buyer so you don’t wind up in a lawsuit after the sale. Disclosing “invisible improvements” that you’ve made, like re-grading or adding a French drain system, can also be a great source of comfort for buyers, adds Boyce.

“The same goes for sewer lines or tanks, radon remediation, or leaky skylights.”

To-do No. 3: Check your real estate agent’s references

An agent’s bad behavior or incompetence could cost you time, money, and peace of mind, so it’s well worth taking extra steps to find the best real estate agent for you. Ask friends for recommendations.

Check that the people you’re considering have a current real estate license—with no complaints filed against them. Meet with the agent and reach out to a few of their references directly.

“Real estate agents should be happy to provide a number of references for a new client to call,” says Marianne Leonard Cashman a Realtor with William Raveis Real Estate in Andover, MA. As far as talking to your friends about a real estate agent recommendation, here are some questions Cashman suggests asking:

  • Did you have confidence in your real estate agent?
  • Do you think he/she had good knowledge of the local market?
  • Did your agent communicate well and keep you informed during the entire transaction?
  • Do you think that he/she negotiated well on your behalf?
  • Did your agent have good vendors who could assist you?
  • Did your agent returned calls/emails in a timely fashion?
  • Would you recommend this person? Why? (Or why not?)

To-do No. 4: Insist on social media marketing

You staged your home beautifully, picked a competitive price, and listed the property, but there’s something else you’ll need to prepare before you’re fully ready to sell—a social media marketing plan. Video tours, floor plans, and photo galleries promoted on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are must-dos, advises Cashman.

“You want to make sure that your agent is using all avenues to attract the right buyer for your home,” she explains. “Make sure your home has a presence on your agent’s website, their agency’s website, and is promoted on various sites that will market the home and give information about open houses.”

To-do No. 5: Make sure the doorbell rings

Ah, attention to detail. It’s those little cosmetic repairs that could cost you your home sale. If buyers see that you can’t even be bothered to repair a busted doorbell, they’re automatically going to think about what else may need fixing and view the home negatively.

“First impressions make all the difference,” says Cashman. “A well-kept home, starting with the view from the curb, gives the perception that the seller has great pride in the home and has taken good care of it—which translates into less energy and costs for the buyer as they prepare to move in.”

To-do No. 6: Clean inside everything

Storage is a huge selling point for homes. So be warned: Buyers are going to poke around inside closets, drawers, cabinets, ovens, refrigerators, and even the dishwasher, whether they’re cleaned or not—so you’d better make sure they are clean.

“Spending the money on a service to deep-clean your home will come back to you at least 10 times in your sales price,” says Boyce. Even if you’ve swept up and scrubbed all surfaces to a shine, you’re not done until dust, crumbs, and creepy crawlies are cleaned out from within the small spaces too.

To-do No. 7: Clarify which items are not included

You don’t want a buyer to fall in love with your house because of the custom window treatments and then rescind their offer when they find out the curtains aren’t for sale.

“The law says that anything bolted to the wall or ceiling goes to the buyer unless specifically excluded in the contract,” says Boyce. “If you want to take your flat-screen TV, chandelier, or custom pot rack, be sure to label it as soon as the house goes on the market, so that buyers don’t bank on owning that item and wind up disappointed.”

Article by: Jennifer O’Neill
Article found: https://goo.gl/8vOTSs

How Much Does Radiant Floor Heating Cost—and How Much Will You Save?

How Much Does Radiant Floor Heating Cost—and How Much Will You Save?


Radiant floor heating—an alternative to traditional forced-air heating where heated coils under the floor provide warmth—is growing in popularity, which might have you wondering: How much does radiant floor heating cost? The price ranges from $5 to $12 per square foot, although installation costs will vary based on the type of radiant floor heating you pick

“There are a lot of variables when it comes to pricing floor heating,” says Julia Billen of radiant floor manufacturer Warmly Yours.

But keep this in mind: Although installing radiant floor heating is more expensive than traditional air vents, it’s also 30% more energy-efficient (and can slash your heating bills by a third). The reason: Heat radiates up from the ground, where people are, instead of having to travel from ducts along the ceiling, losing warmth along the way.

Another nice thing about radiant floor heating is how well it interfaces with solar panels. Since the water needs to be heated only to 100 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s easy to use solar energy directly—that could conceivably drop your heating bill to zero when the sun is shining.

So how exactly does radiant floor heating work, and how easily can it be incorporated into a home? Here’s a rundown of what to expect.

Electric radiant floor heating

There are two main types of radiant floor heating systems: electric and hydronic. Electric radiant floor heating is the kind that comes in mats of electric cables that are installed below your flooring of choice.

Cost: DIY mat kits at hardware stores and from online vendors run $5 to $11 per square foot (including installation costs).

Pros: It’s easy to install. If you are already doing a bathroom or kitchen renovation and have the floors open, this would be a relatively affordable luxury.

Cons: Because electricity is expensive, this kind of heated flooring is best for small spaces like bathrooms, rather than a whole-house heating system.

Hydronic radiant floor heating

Hydronic radiant floor heating is the way to go if you’re looking for a whole-house heating option. In this method, tubes of water heated by your water heater or boiler run below the floor.

Cost: Kits cost $6 to $12 per square foot (including installation costs). You also need a big enough water heater or boiler to handle the added load, plus thermostats compatible with floor sensors.

Pros: Heated water is far more efficient than electricity to warm a home, resulting in lower energy bills.

Cons: The easiest way to install hydronic radiant heat flooring is as part of a new build; as a retrofit, it can be difficult. If you aren’t already tearing up the flooring for a remodel, installation becomes more complicated (and expensive). The tubing is attached from the underside of the subfloor, assuming it can be accessed from a basement. For second and third stories, it may require removing ceilings from some rooms.

Downsides of radiant floor heating

Aside from the increased cost of installing radiant floor heating, the biggest con is that unlike a forced-air system, it does not work as a cooling system in the summer. Although radiant floor cooling does exist, it doesn’t work quite as well because it can make floors feel damp (although this can be solved with a geothermal heat pump). And if something goes wrong, radiant floor heating can be difficult to repair, because you need to get underneath the floor to fix any leaks or electrical problems.

So, make sure you’ve fully explored the pros and cons of radiant floor heating before you take the plunge.

Article by: Audrey Ference
Article found: https://goo.gl/sthTyC

How to Buy a House: The 5 New Rules That Can Make or Break Your Offer

How to Buy a House: The 5 New Rules That Can Make or Break Your Offer


The rules on how to buy a house have changed, folks—so if you’re serious about becoming a proud homeowner in the near future, you’ll want to read this first!

So what’s changed the most in the traditional home-buying process? For starters, prospective buyers should brace themselves for steep prices and stiff competition. Data on realtor.com® show that the nationwide median home price has pushed above $250,000 for the first time ever, 8% higher than a year ago. Plus, total inventory remains much lower than it was a year ago, falling well short of buyer demand. The result? Despite rising home prices, properties are “flying off the market,” says Linda Sanderfoot, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker in Neenah, WI.

Altogether, “it’s a hot seller’s market,” says Seth Lejeune, a real estate agent with Berkshire Hathaway in Collegeville, PA. While it’s good news for sellers, buyers will need to take some extra measures to compete with other house hunters.

To nail a perfect home in today’s housing market, follow these five new rules.

Rule No. 1: Prepare for a marathon house hunt

With today’s low housing inventory and strong buyer demand, it might take you three to six months to buy a house—and maybe even up to a year in some of the country’s tightest markets. Prepare accordingly.

You’re more likely to encounter a multiple-offer situation today than in years past, says Sanderfoot, vastly complicating many negotiations. So don’t presume you’ll be moving any time soon. If you do have a fast-approaching deadline for moving, you’d better get started on your home search. Like, now.  

Rule No. 2: Secure financing before you start shopping

Gone are the days when you’d waltz into home showings without securing your financing first. If you need a mortgage to buy a home, you’ll want to get pre-approved for a home loan before you set foot in a home.

The reason: Without a lender’s pre-approval letter in hand, buyers will have a hard time getting sellers to take them seriously. Your offer, though sincere, could easily fall through for lack of funds. We told you it’s a competitive market, right?

To survey your mortgage options, meet with at least three lenders—which could be banks, credit unions, mortgage brokers, or any combination thereof (you can get recommendations from your real estate agent). You’ll want to get a good-faith estimate, which breaks down the mortgage’s terms, including the interest rate and fees, in order to make an apples-to-apples comparison for the best deal. Here’s more on how to shop for a mortgage.

Rule No. 3: Don’t lowball your offer

Bargain hunters, beware: If you’re making an offer on a home that’s priced to sell—meaning it’s listed at, or slightly above, fair market value—“you should present your best offer right out of the gate,” says Peggy Yee, supervising broker at Frankly Realtors in Vienna, VA.

In other words, you need to wrap your head around the idea that you’re more than likely going to be offering full list price. Although that can be tough for bargain hunters, “it’s the reality of many markets,” says Yee.

All that said, real estate markets vary by area, so look to your agent for advice on how much to offer. You can also check particular neighborhoods on realtor.com/local to get a base line for median home prices and more.

How long a house has been on the market can make a difference, too. If a home has been listed for more than 30 days, that might mean it’s overpriced—and that means you might have a little room to negotiate on price.

Rule No. 4: Curb the contingencies

When buyers make an offer, they can tack on contingencies—terms that must be satisfied before a deal goes through. For instance, you might require that the place pass a home inspection to ensure that it doesn’t need tons of repairs. If you’re getting a mortgage, your lender will require you to include an appraisal contingency where an appraiser makes sure the house is worth what you’re paying.

All in all, contingencies protect buyers, but sellers don’t always like them because they insert many “what ifs” into the deal, which might mean it falls through.

Since this is a seller’s market, buyers can stand out by attaching fewer contingencies to the deal. Not the biggies, of course, but ones that don’t really matter to you. For instance, you might want to consider letting go of a lead-based paint inspection since you can clean up this problem yourself. Or, many buyers may include a contingency that they have to sell their own home before the deal goes through; consider waiving that if you can.

Rule No. 5: Move fast

There’s no time to waste. In many cases, “a seller will list their house on a Friday, do a couple open houses over the weekend, and then review all offers on Monday,” says Yee. That could mean you have just a few days during which to view the property, confer with your agent, and submit an offer.

Given the time crunch, Lejeune says he asks buyers a simple question during his initial consultation. “I’ll ask, ‘If I show you the perfect house today, at a price that you can afford, are you ready to make a full-price offer right now?’ That question gives me a good barometer of how ready you are to buy a home.”

So if you’re serious about buying a house, you need to be ready to pounce.

Article by: Daniel Bortz
Article found: https://goo.gl/MS4bi0

What Is an HVAC System? Upkeep, Shopping Tips, and More

What Is an HVAC System? Upkeep, Shopping Tips, and More


An HVAC system (for heating, ventilating, and air conditioning) is what keeps your home cozy in the winter and cool in the summer. Those of us who have experienced the record-breaking high temperatures of summer or frigid conditions in the winter have no doubt praised our AC units or heaters at one point or another for keeping us comfortable in extreme weather. Or cursed them when they go on the fritz.

But not all HVAC units are built the same, and there are several different types. So  let’s dive in and see which one is right for you.

Types of HVAC systems

The best HVAC system for you depends on your preferences and the size of your house. An HVAC pro can help you make the right choice, says Mike Nicholson, owner of Nicholson Plumbing, Heating, and Air Conditioning in Ashland, MA.

There are three main heating systems:

  • Furnace: The most common type of system, a furnace heats the air and then a blower motor moves the air through the home’s duct system. Expect to pay between $2,500 and $7,500 for a centralized furnace.
  • Boiler: This uses hot water rather than air to heat the house. The heated water, flows through pipes throughout the house, into radiators, which provide the warmth. A standard boiler costs about $4,000.
  • Ductless heating and cooling system: This third option is gaining popularity because its main calling card is energy efficiency. It works by heating and cooling specific zones, whereas the other two are whole-house systems. Rather than being one central piece, this system is “split,” with a unit outside that collects air and uses a compressor to heat it and deliver it inside. Units inside (the number depends on the size of your home) disperse the treated air. When the system is being used to cool the house, it reverses the cycle and sends the hot air from inside the house outside. These systems can cost around $7,000 for a multiple-zone system.

All about the AC

While the systems are all called HVAC in general terms, not every house has AC (and you’re likely well aware if your house doesn’t).

A whole-house air conditioner combines with a furnace and comes in either a “single” configuration (meaning it sends the same amount of heated and cooled air all the time) or “multistage variable speed” configuration (which uses the lowest level of heating or cooling needed and uses higher levels only for extremely hot or cold temperatures).

“[Whole house AC] is more efficient because the system doesn’t need to turn on and off as often to maintain a constant temperature,” says Rick Blank, HVAC field service representative and trainer for Ferguson Enterprises, based in Newport News, VA.

Because boilers don’t have a duct system, a central AC system won’t be an option. But your other two choices would be to add a mini-split system, which works similarly to a ductless system but offers just the cooling option, or window units.

What to inspect on an HVAC unit

A heating and cooling system is expensive to replace, so you’ll want to make sure the one in your potential new house is in good repair. Here’s what to look for:

  • Check the pipes: See if it’s a high-efficiency furnace by checking to see if there is big 2- to 3-inch PVC pipe coming off of it and venting outdoors. “That shows it is 90%-plus efficient, which means it is a high-efficiency unit and will cost less to operate,” Nicholson says.
  • Check the age and service history: If it’s not noted on the unit with stickers, ask the seller for the details. “Although regular maintenance won’t guarantee there won’t be future repairs, it can prevent premature failure of components,” Blank points out. And if the equipment has had excessive repairs, that might indicate installation issues or an improperly functioning system.
  • Inspect the ductwork: Take a damp white paper towel, lift up a floor register, and wipe the inside to see if it is dirty. If so, consider having the ductwork cleaned before moving in, Nicholson suggests.

HVAC unit shopping tips

  • Nicholson recommends looking for energy-efficient units that have an Energy Star label. “The days of the old dinosaur energy sucker in the basement are over,” he says. Yay!
  • Choose a well-known brand like American Standard, Carrier, or Ruud that will stand the test of time. Use a contractor who is certified in that particular manufacturer’s products to install it.
  • If you really want the bells and whistles, go for thermostats that have Wi-Fi which allows you to control your unit from your smartphone.

HVAC maintenance 101

Like your car, routine maintenance will extend the life of the equipment and keep the unit operating at its proper efficiency, Blank says. Coils, fans, and other parts of the system are continually exposed to dirt, which affects the efficiency and capacity of the equipment. And, as the coils become dirty, parts of the system are subject to more stress and can shorten the life of components.

With the right amount of TLC, your furnace or ductless system should last about 12 to 15 years, while the boiler can go 15 to 20, Nicholson says.

Be sure to follow through with these HVAC maintenance tasks:

  • Change the filter on your furnace regularly and have it checked annually by a contractor.
  • Get your boiler tuned up to clean the burners and check for carbon monoxide leaks.
  • Clean the filter on a ductless system by removing, washing, and reinserting it.
Article by: Cathie Ericson
Article found: https://goo.gl/VbQNnL

Cut Back on These 7 Outdoor Trends Buyers Hate

Cut Back on These 7 Outdoor Trends Buyers Hate

Depending on where you live, the first green shoots might just be poking through the ground, but that’s enough to get us thinking about enjoying the perfect days of summer out on the porch or patio. If you’re selling your home, you’ll want to make sure prospective buyers can also picture themselves blissing out in the fresh air—and avoid turning them off with questionable decor decisions.

For Reba Haas, a Realtor® with Re/Max Metro Eastside in Seattle, a prime outdoor offender is the budget fire pit.

“Poorly made pits surrounded by cheap, plastic camping chairs look sad in photos,” she says.  Bottom line: Unless you can put a little money into this element, leave it out. Got it?

From the wrong trees and shrubbery to poor patio lighting and pools, here are seven more outdoor trends that experts say you should avoid in order to sell.

1. Landscaping laid out with a ruler










Nice, neat lines used to be the trend for planting flower beds and bushes, but today’s outdoor look is much more natural.

“Nature isn’t geometric or straight, so don’t plant your yard that way,” recommends Chris Lambton, a professional landscaper and host of DIY Network’s “Yard Crashers.” Instead, he suggests, add some curved lines to your planted beds and yard design for a softer, more realistic appearance. No flower beds? Consider arranging slate pavers or a brick walkway in a winding shape.

2. The same cheap trees everyone has

Typical foundation planting used to include yews, rhododendrons, and dwarf Alberta spruces, says Lambton.

“They were cheap to install, grew well in most climates, and gave a year-round green look; but today’s homeowners can do much better,” he notes.

Choose trees wisely, including eastern red cedar, sugar maple, Colorado blue spruce, and myrtle. Steer clear of the ones that rain leaves and needles (pecan, oak, sweet gum, eastern white pine), and your look will be neater and easier to maintain. And when it comes to placement in your yard, think strategically.

“Don’t plant trees too close to the fence line or the branches, leaves, and pine cones will drop into your neighbor’s yard,” says Art Freedman, founder and CEO of Max Warehouse, a home and garden center in Sacramento, CA.

“And don’t let anyone put large trees near the foundation of your home,” warns Burt DeMarche, president of the LaurelRock Co., a landscaping company in Wilton, CT. This trend leads to branches growing into the house and limbs landing on the roof, especially during stormy weather.

3. Overly bright outdoor lights 

Lighting design has become popular, but overdoing this look can be a disaster for your neighbors. It’s one thing to highlight a few select trees in your backyard, but quite another to install wattage that resembles a major-league stadium, says Freedman.

“Obnoxious outdoor lighting can take a toll on others on your street, particularly motion-activated or overly bright lights that shine into neighbors’ windows,” says Charli Hantman, owner of August Black Interior Design in New York City. Tone down this trend with a more measured approach: Stick to bulbs that are 50 to 75 watts, and don’t use anything stronger than the fixture allows.

4. Garishly colored mulch

Who started this crazy tend, anyway?! Some gardening enthusiasts swear that red or black mulch is better for certain plants and may absorb sunshine and keep the ground warmer, but in reality these unnatural hues can be a real turnoff. Your best bet here is to embrace natural bark instead.

“Colored ones seem to decompose more slowly and may be more susceptible to fungus that can then attach itself to nearby trees or shrubs,” says DeMarche. These tinted mulches have also been found to slow the growth of established plants and even starve new ones by tying up the available food in the soil, he adds.

5. Splashy water features

The water trend is definitely appealing to some, but unless you live in a pool-loving state (Arizona, Florida, Nevada), putting one in might not pay off.

According to the National Association of Realtors®, installing and equipping a concrete pool can cost $30,000. And potential buyers who are planning a family (or already have young kids) will have to deal with the constant safety concerns and upkeep costs. As for ponds and fountains, keep in mind that while water can improve the overall health of your garden, it also attracts insects and larger creatures (eww!).

6. Over-the-top landscaping

Rock Wall Seating

“People sometimes go a little overboard with certain natural elements without considering how they’ll affect the neighbors or potential buyers,” notes Freedman.

Elaborate plantings, sculpted trees, and deep flower beds filled with annuals may seem lush and inviting, but a future homeowner will probably wonder how hard he or she will have to work to keep up this look.

One person’s weeding and trimming fun might be another’s weekend drudgery. Overwrought plantings are a thing of the past; modern homeowners are happier with simpler designs and fewer bushes to fertilize and water.

7. Huge lawns Less is more when it comes to your yard.

Lose the ginormous lawn, pleads Cassy Aoyagi, president of FormLA Landscaping in Los Angeles.

“It’s so boring the way it wraps around every single American home, regardless of location or architectural style,” she says.

For a better, more on-trend look, plant less grass and more native foliage. A smaller lawn means less mowing and watering, too: “It can be arranged in a way that complements your home’s distinctive features and gives your property and its surroundings some flair.”

Choose plants and flowers that grow and thrive naturally in your area (for example, hardy, drought-resistant shrubs make sense in California and the Southwest).

Article by: Jennifer Kelley Geddis

Article found: https://goo.gl/Xp1abq




Spring-Cleaning? The Only 4 Supplies You Need (and 30 Uses for Them)

Spring-Cleaning? The Only 4 Supplies You Need (and 30 Uses for Them)

Before you buy that extra-large jug of industrial-strength cleaning solution, take a look in your pantry. Your spring-cleaning prep may include stocking up on spray bottles full of grime-fighting chemical products (masked by the scent of lemon), but it might be time to rethink your strategy. You don’t need a cabinet full of specialized cleaners for every surface; just a few common household products can clean and refresh your home.

“There are plenty of all-natural cleaning products out there, but why spend that money when you probably have most of the things you need to make your own right in your own pantry?” says Debra Johnson, home cleaning expert for Merry Maids, the nation’s largest home cleaning service.

We’ve highlighted 30 of our favorite uses for these fab four solutions to make cleaning a no-brainer.

Baking soda

  1. Scrub pots: Pour a spoonful of baking soda on a sponge, and use this mild abrasive to remove crud from pots.
  2. Clean brushes and combs: Sprinkle a tablespoon of baking soda in a bowl of warm water, and soak your hairbrushes and combs. Rinse them and air-dry.
  3. Freshen rugs: To banish odors from rugs, sprinkle baking soda on the rug, let set for about 15 minutes, then vacuum.
  4. Brighten laundry: Skip commercial brands of fabric softener and brightener, and add a half-cup of baking soda to each laundry load. It will make your whites whiter, your colors brighter, and everything softer. You can also use a bit less detergent.
  5. Unclog drain: Pour 1 cup baking soda and 1 cup vinegar down the drain to dissolve built-up scum.
  6. Clean toilets: Pour a quarter cup baking soda in the toilet bowl, scrub with a toilet brush, and flush.
  7. Keep bugs at bay: Surround your pet’s bowl with baking soda to keep insects away.

Distilled white vinegar

  1. Polish your windows: Mix a solution of equal parts water and white vinegar, pour it into a spray bottle, spritz on windows, and wipe with a cloth or paper towel to make them sparkle.
  2. Bust garden weeds: Spray vinegar on weeds to make them shrivel up.
  3. Clean coffee cups: Make a scrub that will get rid of coffee and tea stains on mugs by mixing vinegar with salt or baking soda.
  4. Kill germs: Spray straight vinegar onto bathroom fixtures, toilets, tubs, and tile floors to sanitize.
  5. Freshen socks: Add 1 cup vinegar to a large pot of water, boil the solution, and drop in stained and stinky socks. Let them soak overnight.
  6. Energize spent flowers: When cut flowers begin to wilt, add 2 tablespoons vinegar and 1 teaspoon sugar to a quart of water. Pour the solution into the vase, and the flowers will get a second life.
  7. Deodorize the litter box: When you clean the litter box, pour a little vinegar into the bottom of the empty box, let stand for 20 minutes, and then rinse and dry before filling with litter.
  8. Brighten your smile: Dip your toothbrush in distilled white vinegar and brush your teeth like you would with toothpaste.


  1. Clean an electric oven: Warm your dirty oven to 150 degrees Fahrenheit, then turn off the heat. Place a large pot of boiling water on the bottom shelf and a small bowl with a half-cup ammonia on the top shelf. Shut the oven door (always open windows when you use ammonia), and let the bowls sit overnight. In the morning, open the oven and let the fumes diffuse a bit, then wipe the oven clean with a wet cloth and a bit of liquid dish soap. You can scrape off any stubborn burned bits with a spatula. (Warning: Don’t use this method with a gas oven.)
  2. Remove fingerprints from glass: Mix two drops of ammonia into 2 cups of water and wipe the solution on a glass surface. Rinse thoroughly, and dry with a soft cloth.
  3. Shine kitchen hardware: Over time, cabinet knobs, pulls, and hinges become coated with grease. Dip a toothbrush into a small dish of ammonia and scrub off this scum.
  4. Do the windows: Add 1 cup ammonia to 3 cups water, and wipe windows clean with the solution. Then dry with a lint-free cloth.
  5. Refurbish gazed tile: Add a quarter cup ammonia to 1 gallon water, and use it to wipe down tiles,
  6. Help your garden: Ammonia is rich in nitrogen, which your plants need to grow strong and leafy. Mix 1 cup into a 20-gallon hose-end sprayer, and douse plants. Also, wash your garden tools with straight ammonia (outside) to kill plant diseases that you could spread when you dig and hoe.

Liquid dish soap

  1. Mop floors: Add a few drops of dish soap to 1 gallon warm water, and mop floors.
  2. Clean stone counters: Soapy, warm water does a great job cleaning granite and marble. Wipe with a wet cloth, and dry quickly with a microfiber cloth for a surface that shines.
  3. Unsqueak doors: A few drops of dish soap will lubricate door hinges and end annoying squeaks.
  4. Remove grease stains: Rub dish soap onto clothing grease stains, let set overnight, then toss into the washer.
  5. Clean grills: Add gunky grills to a trash can or plastic bag filled with 1 cup soap and 2 cups water. Let them soak overnight, then scrub with steel wool.
  6. Kill aphids: Make a solution of 2 tablespoons liquid dish soap to 1 gallon water, and spray on roses infested with aphids.
  7. Trap fruit flies: Add 3 drops of soap to a bowl of white vinegar, cover with plastic wrap, and poke a few holes in the top. Fruit flies will wander in and never get out.
  8. Clean tools: Soak greasy tools in a bucket of soapy water. Rinse and dry.
  9. Defog eye glasses: Rub a drop of liquid soap on lenses, then wipe (don’t rinse) off with a microfiber cloth.
Article by: Lisa Gordon
Article found: https://goo.gl/ahMBG2

The One Thing Everyone Should Do (but Never Does) Before Buying a House

The One Thing Everyone Should Do (but Never Does) Before Buying a House

Sometime in my mid-20s, I decided I wanted to stay in the Maryland area and buy a home.

I could afford a mortgage around $1,500 per month based on my expenses—mostly student loan payments—and salary. If I found the perfect home, I could stretch to afford around $1,750 per month.

As I searched for my future home, I played a financial game with myself. I’d soon be saddled with a $1,500 mortgage, so why not spend like I had one already? Why not pay a “pretend mortgage” before my real one, so I had a better idea of what it would feel like?

When I was looking for a home, I was sharing a two-bedroom apartment with a friend and paying $600 a month, plus utilities. It was a steep jump to go from $600 to $1,500 a month, so playing this game was important.

At the time, I was budgeting using an app, so I knew I could handle the increase.

I could maintain one of my key money ratios, paying less than 30% of my salary to housing. But I still needed to know how it felt. It’s one thing to see it in an app and another to feel it.

How ‘playing house’ worked for me

Every month, I paid my $600 for rent and set aside $900 in savings. As you’d expect, I didn’t just transfer money from one account to the other, because who has $900 sitting around? If I did, I wouldn’t need to play house!

I had to make adjustments. I contacted my human resources representative to reduce my 401K contributions so I’d have more in my paycheck. I had to adjust my other savings goals as well because I wouldn’t be saving as aggressively.

I also started going out to dinner and bars less often. Instead of going out for drinks a few times a week, I limited myself to two nights, on the weekends.

Making those trade-offs became easier — and easier to explain to friends without having to deal with grumbling, because I was making a clear choice. I was cutting some social time because I wanted to buy a house. I wasn’t saving money for the sake of it. I had a very good reason: to buy a house.

The housing search took about 18 months, and I played house for only 12 of them, so I had an extra $10,000 or so saved up in my mortgage account. I took that money and put it toward the down payment.

The house ended up having a mortgage that was a little less than $1,500, and after living with the mortgage payment for a year and a half, I had no trouble adjusting to it.

If you’re thinking about buying a home or making a similar large purchase, consider playing house first.

Article by:  Jim Wang and originally published on Credit.com.
Article found:  https://goo.gl/NHDilZ