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23 Mar 2017

The basics of spring home upkeep

At long last - or at least what feels like long last - spring has sprung and wonderfully warm weather is right around the corner. As a homeowner, you're most likely relieved because there'll be no more ice and snow to shovel off your driveway, but the new season does mean you'll have some new necessary tasks to keep your house in tip-top shape. 

Don't be stressed by this, though: You can handle several of these necessary home maintenance chores on your own and without spending too much time and money. Let's get started:

The basics of spring home upkeepWith spring here, it's time to clean any remnants of winter out of your gutters.

Inspect your home's dampness-prone areas
If you have an attic, basement or both, it'll be wise to start here. Both of these areas can accumulate enough dampness to encourage mold growth, particularly if there's little ventilation or none at all. Family Handyman notes that it's easy to clean by scrubbing with water-diluted bleach and then vacuuming the remnants. To reduce your chances of facing this unpleasant issue going forward, consider installing a dehumidifier in your basement and regularly ventilating the attic any way you can.

You'll also want to search for signs of pests that may have infiltrated these areas. BobVila.com recommends looking for vertical cracks in the walls or tunneling marks in the wood, and if you find either, call an exterminator.

Exterior checkups
Your roof, shingles, gutters, certain types of siding and windows sustain the most damage from snow, ice and winds, so you'll want to look closely at all these areas. First, see if there are any cracks, gaps or holes in the roof or siding (if it's wood, stucco or brick). Small window gaps can be resealed with caulk, but any serious damage will require professional attention. 

Gutters, fortunately, are easier to tackle yourself. Houzz states that cleaning out leftover snow, slush and ice from the gutters and downspouts is necessary to keep rainwater flowing down from roofs and away from the foundation, so get this taken care of sooner rather than later. 

Checking on appliances for efficiency
As welcome as spring's weather is, it does mean that the heat of summer isn't that far away. So now is a great time to look at your air conditioner's outside unit and see if winter took a toll on it, according to HGTV. If the coils are damp or otherwise unclean, the system won't run efficiently and keep you cool, so get on the horn to a professional to have the unit serviced. Also, be sure to give window AC units a good once-over. 

Finally, because you'll likely be using more water in late spring and throughout summer - to shower more frequently in response to the heat - now may be a good time to preemptively invest in an electric tankless water heater. It can significantly bolster your energy efficiency so that an uptick in water use won't lead to an unfortunate surge in your utility bills. 

22 Mar 2017

Anticipate the spring with energy efficiency best practices

For many of us, it may not be particularly warm and cozy outside right now, but spring is, in fact, on its way. (We promise.) The vernal equinox is just a few days away, and after that, the weather will change before you know it. With this in mind, it will be wise for you to get a head start on adjusting your home's energy usage so that you'll be all set for the spring.

Here are a few home energy efficiency tips to help you get started while the seasons are transitioning:

Put away space heaters ASAP
Some people, in lieu of turning the thermostat up and risking a significant increase in their utility bill, buy one or more space heaters for the rooms they need to be most comfortable in and keep the temperature of the whole house down around 62 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. This isn't a bad winter tactic by any means: Popular Mechanics states that every degree you lower your thermostat below 70 represents a 3 percent decrease in overall heating costs. But these appliances aren't necessary in the spring.

If you can bite the bullet and withstand a slightly-colder-than-average household for a few weeks in mid-March and early April while winter gives way to spring, stop using the space heaters immediately. If it's unseasonably cold at this time, of course, this won't work. But if not, you'll be glad that you started your cost-saving habits early when summer comes and you need to run an air conditioner full blast!

Anticipate the spring with energy efficiency best practicesGet ready for spring by adjusting your energy use habits around the house.

Get your windows ready
Sealing any gaps in your home is just as important for preventing unwanted hot air intrusions as it is for keeping out the cold in the winter. The Department of Energy recommends caulking and weatherstripping for windows to cover any compromised spots, and specifically cautions against the use of window treatments, as they don't actually prevent hot or cold air from entering the household. 

Also, the sun will start doing more work in the waning days of winter, so you can rely on it to take a bit of the burden off of your heating system. Keep the curtains open at all times on sunny days!

Consider a programmable thermostat
Nobody's perfect, and there is perhaps no area of life in which that sentiment is more true than remembering small but vital household tasks and chores. Forgetting to turn down the thermostat before everyone in your house goes to bed is a classic example. Everyone's done it once or twice (or a hundred times, perhaps).

Purchasing and installing a programmable thermostat can greatly mitigate - if not totally eliminate - this issue. According to Popular Mechanics, these tools range widely in price - some as inexpensive as $25, others, with smart features that adjust the temperature by learning your daily routine. Whichever you choose, using one of these can reduce your heating bill by 10 percent or less.

Install a tankless water heater (or two)
Wasted resources equate to wasted money more often than not, and, unfortunately, it's easy to use too much hot water no matter what season it is. If you find that you use a particular water appliance a great deal but are sparing with others, you may want to consider installing an individual tankless water heater for that spot, be it your dishwasher or the shower. 

Tankless water heaters, according to statistics from the Energy Department, can increase the efficiency of your hot water usage by 8 to 14 percent in homes using 86 gallons of water per day - family households, for example. Homes that use 41 gallons of water daily or less, meanwhile, will have 24 to 34 percent greater energy efficiency than a traditional water heater. This is accomplished by eliminating the tank from the equation - the middleman, if you will - and heating water from your local source directly at the point of release. Because warmer weather typically means more frequent showers, you would do well to address the issue now by upgrading your water heater.

13 Feb 2017

The most exciting home improvement projects to give your home a boost

Whether you're looking to increase the value of your home or you simply need a new project to take on, there are all sorts of ways you can make small but meaningful improvements to your house. While some undertakings may be a bit more substantial than others, with determination and a bit of elbow grease, you can still make a lasting difference.

Consider trying the following home improvement projects:

Upgrade a bathroom
Although renovating a bathroom can be a costly task, Remodeling Magazine found it's relatively inexpensive compared to other major ventures around the home. It's also likely to improve the overall value of your home.

Beyond a full-scale remodeling project, even a small upgrade can still make a meaningful difference. Installing a new sink or tub gives your bathroom a new sense of charm, while a sleek vanity serves to give the space a more open feel. If you're going to change a few things, be sure to plan everything out beforehand to ensure the project doesn't get away from you.

Install a skylight
Finding ways to make use of natural light makes your home more inviting and can be an opportunity to reduce your monthly electricity bill as well. A skylight is an elegant addition to any room and Home Advisor found that because there are a number of different types, there's a style that will fit nearly any budget.

A skylight is an elegant and simple addition to any home.A skylight is an elegant and simple addition to any home.

Go green
Taking advantage of natural light is just one of many ideas available to homeowners looking to lower their utility costs and this also serves to improve your overall environmental impact. In addition to natural lighting, other small steps can make a sizeable difference. For example, use a smart thermostat to monitor home heating and cooling costs or consider installing insulation to promote even greater efficiency for these systems.

Solar panels are another great tool for going green. Roof top panels reduce the amount of electricity your home pulls from the grid, and in some instances, you can sell the utility company any extra output your home produces. Because a roof full of solar panels can be a large investment, it may make more sense to find a use of this technology on a smaller scale. Outdoor lighting systems that use solar panels is just one useful idea.

Replace an old water heater
An exciting way to make use of solar energy is to power an electric tankless water heater. This technology is a more efficient and effective way to provide your home endless hot water, meaning you lower your family's environmental impact and also benefit from a less expensive utility bill.

Because these units are also sleek and quiet, they represent a serious upgrade from the older, less subtle model in your basement. By swapping this out for an electric tankless model, you make a modern improvement to your entire home but also open up a bit of space downstairs as well.

Do some landscaping
From curb appeal to going green, taking some time to make improvements on the outside of your property can be a rewarding and beneficial pursuit. A clean-cut yard with a tidy row of bushes or neatly planted trees looks attractive to neighbors and potential buyers alike, and landscaping and gardening is also an exciting hobby.

Trees shade your home in the summer, meaning they're also a natural way to reduce your air conditioning use in the summer.  And because thirsty trees can mitigate stormwater runoff, taking the time to make some improvements around the yard can protect your home from possible damage as well.

A tree or two in the front yard is an attractive addition to your property.A tree or two in the front yard is an attractive addition to your property.

Reimagine an old shed
Addressing efficiency and property value are great end goals of a weekend of hard work, but you may also want to just improve your home for your family's enjoyment too. One clever idea is to take an old shed or greenhouse and make it more cozy and inviting. Whether it's a place to play cards, a relaxing spot to have a meal or a secret clubhouse for your kids, a renovated shed is an excellent addition to any home.

By adding a tankless water heater at the point-of-use you can get hot water in a shed without having to wait for the water to travel through pipes.

Bust out some paint
You need not take on such massive projects to make a positive change around the house, and sometimes, simple solutions are the best. A fresh coat of paint helps revitalize any room and this is a relatively easy undertaking.

Brighten up the kitchen or living room with a splash of eggshell or soft blue, or give a bedroom an element of character with a deep maroon or exciting yellow. And even if you don't want to rock the boat too much, just touching up on an existing paint job still constitutes a worthy project.

Use this list as a launch​ pad to get started. Pick one idea and try your hand at making a positive change before moving on to the next one.