Making Efficient Use of Your Air Conditioner

If you cool your home or apartment with an air conditioning unit, here are a few tips that will help you make more efficient use of the appliance, resulting in lower energy costs and more efficient disbursement of the cool air.

 Don’t make the mistake of buying a bigger unit with the impression that bigger will automatically be better.  In fact, a room air conditioner that is too big for the area it is supposed to control will perform less efficiently.  Cooling units work better if they are operated for longer periods of time than if they are switched on and off continuously.  In fact, longer run times allow air conditioners to better control the room temperature.

 Also:

 Change your air filter.  Dealing with indoor air quality most effectively means filtering or cleaning all the air in your home.

 Don’t try to offset your home’s temperature by drastically lowering your thermostat.  The less difference between the indoor and outdoor temperatures, the lower your overall cooling bill will be. 

 Using an interior fan in conjunction with your air condition will spread the cooled air more effectively through your home without greatly increasing the energy usage levels.

 Avoid placing lamps or television sets near your air conditioning thermostat, as it will sense the heat produced by these appliances, leading the unit to run longer than necessary, and at lower efficiency.

 If you have access to the part of the air conditioning unit that is placed outdoors, consider planting trees or shrubs to shade it, but be careful not to block the airflow.  A unit operating in the shade uses as much as ten percent less electricity than one operating in the direct sun.

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Boosting Your Home’s Resale Value

Here are a handful of straightforward things you can do to increase your home’s appeal to potential buyers:

A green lawn is an enormous plus.  A weedy, crabgrass-filled lawn can be a quick turnoff.  It will take a few weeks, but it’s not hard to green your lawn.  It shows you care and cared for your house.  Well-placed shrubs, trees and flowers make a property much more inviting and hide things like meters, hoses, pipes and other outdoor detriments.

Paint or pressure-wash the exterior.  You can brighten up your walls with just a quick pressure washing that removes dirt, cobwebs, stain and mildew.  Painting is more involved and expensive, but will definitely add curb appeal.

Look closely at your driveway.  Does it have oil stains, spots, or simply look aged?  Again a pressure washing can work wonders.

Spruce up your entryway with a decorative glass door, nicely trimmed potted plants or shrubs and other attractive touches.  Remember:  95% of all home buyer purchases are heavily influence by a woman, and women will look more closely at these things.

Touch up interior paint and trim work.  Little dings, marks, scuffs and such will detract from your home’s value.  Homeowners tend to overlook the minor smudges they see every day.  A potential buyer walking into your house will spot them immediately.

Make sure that all appliances staying with the house are in top working order.

Have your carpets professionally cleaned.  Potential buyers will be looking at your place with the mindset of how much money and time they will have to put in to make it livable and homelike.  The more you can help them with that vision, they better off you will be.

Look closely for pest infestation of any kind.  Bring in an exterminator if you have even the slightest concern.

Have your home inspected.  Be sure to have the foundation, roof and plumbing checked out.  Being able to present the results of a positive inspection to potential buyers shows that you know you have a good, well-cared-for house.

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Shower Stall Options

A shower/bathtub combination can be a good solution for bathrooms that have limited space, but the trend is to separate these units if you are remodeling or adding on a bathroom. This might require expanding into other existing space—like a nearby closet, for example.  It can also sometimes be accomplished by rearranging the layout in a bathroom. Often in older baths the layout is not very functional and does not make the best use of space. When reinstalling the units, it is possible to save some money on plumbing costs if they are located next to one another.

Plan your space carefully, taking accurate measurements.  Transferring the dimensions to graph paper can be a great help in getting an accurate layout.  Design software can make this an even simpler process, allowing proposed changes to be considered with the mere click of a mouse.

Consider how the elements will relate to one another in your space.  A shower with sliding doors or a shower curtain may be preferable to a shower door that swings out into the bathroom.

Shower stalls come in a variety of choices, from wide models to slim, space-saving options.  There are corner shower stalls to consider, as well.  Removing or adding a shower or tub to an existing space presents its own set of challenges.  Removal may require some demolition to get it through the door.  And be careful when shopping to be certain that the model you want can be maneuvered into your house and the room itself.

Many units are available in multiple pieces that can be reasssembled, and these prefabricated models are of a much better quality than those produced in the past.  Many feature all or most of the extras found in one-piece shower units.

You’ll find many stand alone shower options at your local home improvement center. Do some online browsing, as well.  You will need a shower floor, shower walls, a shower head and shower doors.  Most of these items are sold in a kit, but check to be absolutely certain you are getting everything that you’ll need to finish the job.

When selecting a shower head, either choose one with a pressure balance valve included, or install a pressure balance valve separately. This will allow you the comfort of maintaining the temperature throughout your shower even if water is run elsewhere in the household.

Whether your needs call for a wide shower, a slim line shower stall or even a corner shower, there is a unit that will fit your needs and situation.

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Improving Walls and Ceilings

Improving walls and ceilings is an excellent way to bring back the life of your home and great for maintaining equity on one of the biggest investments in your life.

Many of the wall upgrades can be handled by an experienced do-it-yourselfer with a bit of know-how and the time to undertake the projects.

If you have dents in the walls or ceilings and/or holes, you will need to have scrapers, plaster, knife, spackle, cloth, sandpaper and paint.  You may also need the patches that come with plastering kits in the event some of the holes require additional attention.

Before you start with the spackling, make sure the area is clear of dust and other debris.  Apply a coat of spackle to the area and wait until it dries.  Then sandpaper the area and dust it again to remove any remaining particles.

If you are peeling off old paint, use a putty knife or paint-scraper to remove as much of the material as possible.  Spackle around the edge of the chipping paint and then sand down the area and dust it thoroughly before applying new paint.

Removing stains will require solvents; some require nothing more than a damp sponge; you can also try dish soap in small quantity.  Tougher stains will obviously require a stronger cleanser.  If mildew has collected, particularly mold spores, this should be cleansed with a bleach solution to prevent it from reappearing right away.

A larger quantity of nail holes or other more significant damage may require re-plastering an entire area.  Obviously, this is a much larger undertaking, not necessarily beyond your ability to do it, but it’s well worth considering if, at this time, you would be better served by engaging the services of a professional remodeler/repairman.

In any event, maintaining the upkeep and look of your walls and ceilings has more than just cosmetic value; it keeps the integrity of your home at its best, as well.

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Effective Tips for Spring Cleaning

Spring cleaning is usually viewed as one of the most dreaded tasks people must undertake each year.  It’s a time to air out your home, get rid of old, unwanted items, and to reorganize those things you still plan to use.  By taking a few minutes to put together a “prep list,” you can organize your plan and in the process, make it seem less daunting.

Here are some items, some obvious, some not so, to help you welcome spring and warmer temperatures into your home:

  • Wash your windows, inside and out.
  • Vacuum or wash the draperies and other window treatments.
  • Wash blankets, throw rugs and bed covers.  This is a more time-consuming than difficult process, and you will be better served by setting aside the appropriate block of time to do all of this in one burst of activity.
  • Check all downspouts and clean them accordingly to reduce the likelihood of clogs and other problems.
  • Arrange to have your air conditioning system inspected.  Spring is the best time to do this, because the hot weather has not yet taken hold.  Also, check and clean air filters and vents.
  • Check and replace smoke detector batteries.  This should be done every six months, so setting up a timetable that has you doing this regularly every spring and fall will help to establish a consistent routine.
  • Drain any sediment from your hot water heater to keep it in top working condition.
  • Use a small foam paintbrush to clean small spaces between cabinets or under appliances.  These are those easily-overlooked areas where dust and cobwebs can accumulate undetected for lengthy periods of time.

Just this short list will make an impressive difference in the freshness and cleanliness of your home and set you on the right course for enjoying those longer days and pleasant, warm evenings.

Value-Added Remodeling Projects

Before you undertake a home remodeling project, there are a few things to consider.

How long do you plan to remain in your home?  How will your remodeling project affect the resale value if you plan to move within the next few years?  The remodeling project that seems wonderful to you may not be considered a value-added project for potential buyers.

Keep within the bounds of your neighborhood.  For example, a $50,000 home theatre is neat to have, but if you live in a $100K-$200K neighborhood, this will not add much to your resale value, as you are outpacing and outpricing the area in which you live.

Similarly, game rooms, saunas, pool and bars generally have much lower resale values, since these aren’t every homeowner’s cup of tea.  If you plan to remain in your home for years to come and want to enjoy such amenities, they can be a great add-on.  If, however, you anticipate moving within two or three years or your career might easily take you to another city, these won’t be great investments.

Home offices, screened porches and refurbished basements are somewhat better choices, but experts advise using caution when undertaking projects such as these.  The return on investment is higher; some of these are partially tax deductible, and trends indicate a greater appeal for these items.  However, the general rule is to stick with the traditional; check with local furniture stores or even local realtors before adding something avant garde or unique.

Decks, fences and bathrooms are better value-added remodeling projects, increasing your home’s appeal and averaging an 80-90% return on investment.  Some of these are costlier undertakings, but compensate by increasing a property’s functionality.

Kitchens and bathrooms are considered the absolute top-of-the-line upgrades, with a return on investment somewhere around the 100-110% level.  Though again, analysts recommend caution.  Don’t outprice your home by installing appliances or high-end materials that far outstrip other homes in the area if there’s a good chance you won’t be staying there long enough to take full advantage of them.

Bottom line, of course, is to go with what your heart desires and what your pocketbook can tolerate.  But it’s always a good idea to proceed with caution and only after having done some careful research.

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Consider UPVC Windows to Keep Your Home Safe and Stylish

UPVC windows are manufactured from poly vinyl chloride and contain galvanized steel which is the reason they are perfect for homeowners.  Not only are they highly effective in keeping out the cold in winter, they also are particularly good at insulating the interior of your home.  UPVC will ensure outside noise is kept to a minimum, keep your home warm and cozy, and allows you to save money on heating bills.

You’ll find a wide selection of UPVC windows suitable for every type of new or replacement project, allowing you plenty of options when it comes to choosing quality exterior windows for your home. They are smart, straightforward to fit, require little maintenance and are competitively priced.

Pivot windows are designed for and suited to commercial or apartment buildings. The sash pivots around the central horizontal axis which means you have access to the outside window pane from the inside of the house, making them a safe, clean option for anyone with a property above floor level. Their large clear panes also allow for a lot of light to flow in and the chance to enjoy the views.

Tilting reversible windows are another option for multi-story residential and commercial buildings as they have the ability to reverse 180 degrees outside the building envelope, allowing for full access to the outer pane for easy cleaning. Reversible windows are a safe option for those living on the ground floor of apartment buildings as the glass can’t be removed by intruders; they also incorporate child-safety catches which limit how far they can be opened, preventing young children from falling out of them.

Vertical sliders are a traditional style that offer beauty, durability and low maintenance. If you want to maintain the look of your period property then the classic, stylish looks of Georgian sliding windows, is a good option. UPVC sliding windows have triple seals for excellent draft proofing, an anti-jimmy bar for protection against break-ins and resistant hardware for optimal safety measures, in addition to a slide-and-tilt mechanism for effortless cleaning.

If you are building a new house and about to order the windows, or your home has old timber frames that are in need of replacement, consider UPVC as it offers a vast range of styles, and choice of colors. Whatever your preference, from traditional vertical sliders, tilt-and-turn, pivot and reversible to contemporary styles or energy efficient options, you’ll find lots of information and guidance online to help you make the right choice.

UPVC also provides a higher level of insulation against outdoor noises and is predominantly popular in areas located near to busy roads, motorways or train lines. Window systems are generally guaranteed for up to 10 years and available in a wide choice of colors and finishes to suit any building. UPVC windows are expressly designed for fast, easy production and fitting.

Highly effective against harsh weather conditions, unlike wood, iron and aluminium, UPVC is the clear choice as an attractive and practical way to ensure your family home is safe and secure.

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Upgrade Your Property With an Attractive Fence

One of the best value-for-dollar investments is a property line fence.  A well-designed and professionally installed fence will upgrade your house and property, as well as provide security at the same time.  The fencing materials that are available today can be combined in any number of ways to create an attractive one-of-a-kind feature, or installed without frills for a straightforward security fence.  By working with a professional fence contractor, you’ll be able to determine the type of fence that best serves your needs, as well as learning whether this is a good opportunity to improve the appearance of your property.

There are numerous types of fencing materials, from redwood to cedar, to wrought iron and vinyl fencing that require no painting.  Redwood and cedar can be installed in the standard full-height configuration, or accented with a top band of diamond lattice to add architectural appeal to an otherwise mundane wood fence.  In addition, single and double gates can be installed at a driveway entrance and side yard access areas.  A professional fence contractor can be enlisted to fabricate custom gates in any design, or to incorporate prefabricated gates of your choosing into the installation.

Combining different types of fence and masonry materials is another way to add architectural appeal to a property.  Stone or brick pilasters, with wood spanning from one to the next, is a popular design concept that will add value and appeal to your property.  Large stone pilasters can be used as gate columns, with smaller pilasters along the property line, and wood fence panels incorporated into the layout.  Other designs, such as those for horse properties, would call for typical fence rails.

Professional fence contractors employ the latest design and estimating software that makes the new fence experience exciting in terms of viable options.  Your particular property can be digitally enchanced with any number of design images and concept to determine the ideal fence.  From that point, the materials and labor are incorporated into a bottom-line cost that works for your budget.  The fence installation is then coordinated with other trades that might be involved, such as electrical or paving contractors, and the installation is scheduled to meet your convenience.

Some property owners and building contractors prefer to select and purchase fence materials from outside sources, then enlist an installer for the project.  Depending on the situation, this approach may be cost-effective.

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Factors that Influence Bathroom Remodeling Costs

Consider the scope of your bathroom remodel up front in order to accurately gauge the time and finances involved.

Will this be a partial or complete renovation?  Are you looking to re-paint, install new cabinets, new lighting and/or new fixtures?  These are simpler fixes, and can often be done by the homeowner himself.  But when the task is going to involve demolition, plumbing and floor replacement, it’s likely that professional services will need to be involved.  And keep this in mind:  You will want to take into consideration the amount of time you’ll need to set aside for the process.  If you are a “weekend warrior” when it comes to home repairs/improvements, will this leave your bathroom in a state of disrepair for an extended period of time?  Can you and your family manage to live around that out-of-commission room for that long?

When utilizing a professional remodeler, choose wisely.  Ask for references and contact previous customers to see how they felt about the contractor and the work he did.  Determine how long the company has been in business.  Compare rates.  Take to time to compare material costs by visiting a few home improvement centers.  Steer your contractor to the type–and the price range–of the materials you want adorning your bathroom.  Don’t simply rely on him to make the decision for you.

If the job is an extensive remodel, perhaps there are some aspects of the renovation that you can complete yourself, in order to keep the budget within a manageable level.  But be realistic about this–if you have even the slightest doubts about your ability to do it, leave it to the professionals!  Don’t run the risk of creating a bigger problem and ultimately adding more money to the remodel!

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Your Complete Kitchen Planning Guide

The kitchen is the heart of your home and is more than just a place to prepare, cook, serve, and eat meals. Modern designer kitchens should be the ultimate representation of your lifestyle yet provide compete functionality.

When we say ‘lifestyle’, we really mean how will the kitchen be used and by whom? How much time do you typically spend preparing meals, what type of meals…gourmet or fast food? How are your meals prepared…made from scratch or pulled from the freezer and placed into a microwave? Are your meals eaten in the kitchen, a formal dining room, or in front of the television? Do you have pets to be considered in your new kitchen design? Do you have hobbies which also are done in the kitchen?

The best kitchen designs are laid out with work zones in mind. Using what’s called “the work triangle,” kitchen designers place everything from ovens and cooktops to sinks and refrigerators — as well as the cabinets themselves — within various zones. Space planning or work zones should be driven by your needs to maximize storage, accessibility and comfort in your kitchen.

• Storage Space – Is there enough? Storage should be accessible to people of all ages and it should accommodate work needs and storage preferences. Don’t overlook the important needs of handling your refuse, garbage, and recycling bins. Well designed storage spaces provide enhanced functionality for your kitchen.

• Work Zones – The basic work stations in your kitchen include a) storage for refrigerated and non-refrigerated items, b) cooking and/or heating, and c) meal preparation. Each work station must complement the other and the distance between each station should be as short as possible and without impediments.

• Open Floor Plans – Reflecting today’s more informal living; open floor plans are very popular in new and remodeled kitchens.  Open floor plans create new design opportunities and can help you eliminate bottlenecks, improve traffic flow, and even create a perception of more overall space within your home.

Your Kitchen – From Floor to Ceiling

• Cabinets – There are literally thousands of options to consider when choosing kitchen cabinets. Your task can be made easier by narrowing your options using these five things – Price, Material, Type, Color, and Style.

• Counter Tops have an enormous importance on the look and feel of your kitchen. The many choices available offer varying aesthetics, cost, weight, durability, and upkeep.

• Sinks – Material for your sink should blend with your décor; options include stainless steel, composite granite, cast acrylic, cast iron, and copper. The size of your countertop may limit your options for size and number of bowls within your sink. Drop-in or dual-mount sinks work well with existing countertops while undermount sinks offer a clean and stylish look with replacement countertops.

• Appliances are the workhorses in your kitchen. Appliances should be attractive, powerful, quiet, easy to clean, and safe. If buying new, look for super-high energy efficiency ratings to guide your choice.

• Flooring – The best time to lay a new floor is immediately after your old kitchen has been stripped out and your plumbing and electrical work has been completed. New flooring should cover the entire area, as the additional cost is negligible compared to the time it takes to cut around cabinets. Like your countertops, kitchen flooring should be durable, stain resistance, and complimentary to your overall décor.

• Lighting – Given the plethora of functions your kitchen performs, sufficient ambient and task lighting is critical. You need to have the correct lighting at all the conceivable spaces for whatever task may be done at that spot. The type of surface, which is being lit, will also have an impact to the lighting choices you need to make. Colors also play an important role in your lighting selections.

Your Kitchen – Delivery and Installation

Consult skilled experts in a variety of fields, especially if you plan your kitchen remodel as a ‘Do-It-Yourself’ project. Since a complete kitchen makeover can be a fairly expensive undertaking, it is recommended that you seek and use skilled professionals with design and installation expertise. If you do not select a full service company with this capability as your source, you must be prepared to serve as your own ‘scheduling contractor’ and perhaps, even purchasing agent. Consider these final tips to get the most value from your investment:

1. Put your plan to paper – draw a plan and make a list to help you determine costs.

2. Hire a reputable contractor experienced in complete kitchens. Get references and a timeframe in writing. Labor costs can be estimated at approximately 30% of the total remodeling job.

3. Do it yourself – coordinate with your contractor for the pieces of work which make sense based on your skill and experience in remodeling. Unless you are licensed, hire reputable plumbers and electricians.

4. Keep at least 10% of your budget for unexpected costs. Who knows what lies beneath those old walls or floors?

Buying a new kitchen is not something you do every day; plan wisely to ensure getting the most for your investment. Remember that fitted kitchen products and services are not ‘off the shelf’ items so make sure your plan also includes the delivery of items so installation is not stalled. A ‘build your plan’ and ‘follow your plan’ approach will ultimately save you money and provide you with the kitchen of your dreams.

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