Home Health and Safety Risks

The most common – and solvable – home health and safety risks

(BPT) – For many Americans, “home” evokes warmth, comfort, security and safety. But while home may be sweet, statistics show it’s far from safe. From falls and other types of accidents to fires and poor indoor air quality, home can be a dangerous place — so it’s important to make simple home improvements that can help minimize avoidable home safety and health risks.

Falls

Falls are the leading type of accident that sends people of all ages to the emergency room, each year, and they’re particularly dangerous for older people and very young children, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Simple changes to your home can help reduce the risk of someone falling:

* Make sure all stairways are equipped with handrails that are securely fixed to the wall.

* Outfit bathrooms used by seniors with grab bars in shower and toilet areas.

* Provide adequate lighting for when people move around at night, especially in stairways, hallways and bathrooms. The same is true during the day, especially for older adults and for anyone with reduced vision. Traditional or tubular skylights can bring abundant natural light into these and other areas of the home.

* Remove or tack down area rugs to reduce the risk someone will catch a toe and trip.

* To prevent small children from falling out of windows, install window guards with an emergency release device in case of fire.

* Use safety straps when placing babies and young children in high chairs, carriers or swings, and never leave a child alone while he or she is strapped in to a device.

Indoor air quality

While you may think of pollution as an outdoor problem, the air inside your home can actually host more harmful irritants than outside air, according to research by the Environmental Protection Agency. Air pollution has been linked to a host of health problems, from respiratory ailments like allergies and asthma, to headaches and even depression. Several home upgrades can help improve air quality inside your home.

When painting choose low or no-VOC paints. Consider removing carpets if you suffer from allergies or asthma. Good ventilation can make a home more comfortable and the air inside it healthier. You can improve ventilation in a variety of ways, including by installing fresh air skylights. In addition to venting stale indoor air through passive ventilation, Energy Star-qualified solar powered fresh air skylights deliver the health benefits of natural light. Energy-efficient, remote-controlled solar powered fresh air skylights and solar powered blinds are eligible for a 30 percent federal tax credit as are the installation costs. Visit www.veluxusa.com to learn more.

Fires

Each year, thousands of Americans are killed or injured in home fires, according to data from the National Fire Protection Association. Yet homeowners can do a lot to reduce the risk of a fire occurring:

* Every home should be equipped with smoke alarms. If your home is older, it may not already have alarms. Add them — smoke alarms reduce the risk of home fire fatality by half, according to the NFPA. If you do have smoke alarms, but they’re old, replace them with newer models, and consider the investment of having your home hard-wired with alarms.

* Replace old electrical wiring and appliances — they’re a leading cause of home fires.

* If you have a wood-burning fireplace, use a safety screen to catch sparks and prevent burning material from rolling out.

* Finally, if you’re building a new home or renovating an existing one, consider adding a home fire sprinkler system. According to the NFPA, they reduce the chance of someone dying in a home fire by 80 percent. When installed during new construction, a home fire sprinkler system costs about $1.35 per square foot of covered space, the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition says, noting that’s about what you would pay to upgrade your carpeting.

 

5 Outdoor Project To Add Value To Your Home

5 outdoor projects that will add value to your home

(BPT) – Everyone wants a great outdoor space, but backyard projects can be a lot of work – and in many cases, a lot of money. So it just makes sense to choose projects that will enhance your quality of living for summers to come as well as yield a great return on investment. Here, then, are five value-building outdoor projects that pay off in more ways than one.

1. Add a wood deck

Decks are great additions for multiple reasons. They expand your living space outside, creating a useful link between interior and exterior spaces. Wood decks also offer one of the highest returns on investment of any home improvement project. In fact, a wood deck will recoup more than 80 percent of its construction cost when you sell your home, according to Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value report. Composite decking, in comparison, comes up short in terms of ROI.

A deck constructed of Western Red Cedar benefits from the lumber’s natural rot resistance, low maintenance requirements (you can stain it or let it weather naturally) and its inherent beauty. What’s more, Real Cedar lumber comes from certified sustainable forests, so you can feel good about your deck’s environmental impact. Visit www.realcedar.com to learn more.

2. Update your landscape lighting

Lighting outdoor areas once required lots of wiring and professional installation, but advances in solar lighting efficiency and brilliance have made landscape lighting easy. From uplights that illuminate trees and architectural features, to light strands that provide visual delineation of stairs and railings, a variety of solar lighting options are available. Installation is often as simple as putting a stake in the ground. Plus, it’s cost-effective. True, you may need to make an initial investment in quality solar lights, but you’ll save in the long run on electricity. Also, doesn’t the idea of a warmly lit backyard space just seem more inviting?

3. Define your seating area

Creating an outdoor room that feels like an extension of your home is a win-win. It increases the square footage of your living space, which in turn, increases the value of your property. Of course, choosing the right material is paramount in terms of maximizing your investment. Whether you’re designing a fully loaded, outdoor kitchen/dining area or simply installing a pergola with some built-in benches, you need beautiful high-performance products. With that in mind, your best bet is a strong versatile wood such as Western Red Cedar. It’s pitch and resin-free, so it readily accepts and holds a variety of finishes. Or for an ultra-low maintenance option, you can let cedar weather naturally to a graceful silvery patina.

4. Build a fire pit

Right now, fire pits are the “hottest” thing in landscaping (pun intended). Landscape architects also cite a fire pit as an outdoor improvement that’s in high demand. That’s because they’re great for enhancing key areas and creating a sense of place, which in turn, adds value to your home. They can be both practical – warming an outdoor space on chilly fall evenings – and fun. Installing one is relatively easy, too. You can find plenty of design ideas, complete with building instructions, with a simple online search. Be sure to carefully consider where you locate your fire pit, keeping safety in mind.

5. Incorporate raised planters

Gardening is a popular outdoor pastime, and building raised planters or beds can make it easier to enjoy a variety of vegetables and flowers throughout the growing season. Planting in raised beds – instead of directly in the ground – affords you greater control over soil quality, moisture and pests. Plus, tending raised beds is easier on the back. For a longer-term investment, choose a durable, naturally rot-resistant material, such as Western Red Cedar. This will ensure your beds are in good shape from season to season. And according to many home renovation experts, it’s little landscaping touches like this that can add substantial value to your home.

For more outdoor ideas, free building plans and information on Western Red Cedar, visit www.realcedar.com.

Defining Home Improvement ROI

Defining home improvement ROI: It’s not just about the money

(BPT) – If home improvement was only about increasing a home’s resale value, perhaps more people would live in homes that had steel entry doors, manufactured stone veneer and/or vinyl siding and interior walls that were a uniform beige. But when you’re calculating the potential return on investment of any home improvement project, you need to consider more than just the cost.

In addition to resale value, your ROI calculations should also take into account the emotional satisfaction of a project, how it will affect your enjoyment of your home, and its impact on the house’s livability. Some projects definitely return more of their investment at the time of resale — like that steel front door. But not everyone will fall in love with how a steel door looks, and may find the richness of wood more aesthetically satisfying. Other projects may really boost your enjoyment of your home, but be problematic when you one day want to sell; inground pools come to mind.

While some improvements you do because you have too — such as replacing the roof — a few home improvements positively affect resale value, increase a home’s livability and elevate your enjoyment. These are the projects that you also do because you want to. Here are a handful of home improvements that meet all the criteria for a great investment not only when you sell but while you’re living in the home:

Skylights

In the realm of home improvements, adding skylights is one of least expensive upgrades you can choose for the functionality and appearance benefits they provide.  You get a healthy nudge in resale value plus significant emotional and aesthetic benefits.  Skylights, which are particularly popular in kitchens and baths, admit more natural light into a home — which is always appealing to buyers — so when you’re selling, rooms with skylights will appear bigger, airy and more inviting. While you’re still living in the home, you’ll reap the psychological and health benefits of more natural light and ventilation.

Opt for Energy Star-qualified, solar-powered, fresh-air skylights, like those from Velux America, and you can use the skylight not only for natural light but to provide passive ventilation that improves indoor air quality. You’ll enjoy the skylights even more since they come with programmable touch pad remote to operate not only the skylights but also energy-efficiency-boosting accessories like blinds in designer colors and patterns. What’s more, solar powered skylights and blinds, along with installation costs, are eligible for a 30 percent federal tax credit. To learn more visit www.whyskylights.com.

Kitchen remodel

A minor kitchen remodel of around $20,000 returns nearly 80 percent of your investment when you sell your home, according to Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value Report. Upgrading your kitchen can also be deeply satisfying emotionally, giving you a chance to express your creativity while achieving gains in usability at the same time.

In practical terms, new kitchen appliances tend to be more feature-rich, usable and energy-efficient than older models. The same is true of kitchen faucets, which can allow you to waste less water or even thwart the spread of germs. New cabinets and countertops expand storage and work space while redefining the entire look of the kitchen.

Bath remodel

Bathrooms help sell homes, and remodeling yours can recoup 70 percent of the investment cost when you sell your home, according to Remodeling Magazine. Since bathrooms are far more important than their practical purpose, an improved bathroom can realign how you feel about your living space. A soaking tub, great shower experience, fresh finishes and even fresh paint can all deliver more positive feelings about your bathroom.

What’s more, replacing older faucets and fixtures can actually give you the satisfaction of reducing your water bill. Newer toilets, showerheads and faucets use less water to deliver the same quality of experience as older, less efficient models. Curbing water waste can save you money — and that’s something anyone can feel good about!

Consider adding fresh air skylights to both rooms – in the kitchen for light and to vent cooking odors and heat and in the bath for more light, ventilation and privacy. They are cost effective upgrades that deliver both functionality and resale value.

Just as you would never take a job based only on the salary, you should never undertake a home improvement solely on its monetary value. Instead, consider all the elements of ROI — from cash to emotion — before deciding how to spend your home improvement dollars.

5 Tip For Creating Curb Appeal

5 tips for creating fall curb appeal

(BPT) – Soon, all things pumpkin spice will be here, including the home visitors that bring them. In preparation of the door bell ringing, create a little spice of your own with some seasonal curb appeal. You don’t have to limit yourself to pumpkins and hay bales — below are tips and projects for sprucing up your home’s view from the curb this season.

Front door, first impressions

Your front door is one of the first things people notice about your home. Give your door a fresh face with a coat of paint in a bold fall color to draw the eye to this focal point of your home.

Another project is to replace the door entirely. Consider options with decorative glass accents, and stunning sidelights (windows on either side of the door) to add more natural light while maintaining a sense of style and privacy. Plus, as temperatures start to drop, Energy Star -qualified entry doors, like those from Pella, will help maintain your home’s energy efficiency. For entry door inspiration check out Pinterest, your resident showroom or your local home improvement store.

Accessorize with new hardware

Replace your front door hardware for a quick, easy facelift. Choose hardware finishes that compliment light fixtures, mailbox and house numbers for a polished, cohesive look. You’ll be delightfully surprised what a difference new hardware can make in creating an updated look to your home.

Refresh exterior body and trim colors

For a dramatic change, repaint your home’s exterior. It’s bold and can make your home stand out from other homes on the block. Not up for the bold change? To make an impact with a smaller change, add new trim colors. When updating trim, choose color schemes that match your home’s primary exterior color, or complement it with a fresh twist.

Create points of interest with plants

You don’t have to stop enjoying beautiful plants and flowers simply because summer is over. Add pops of color by arranging pots filled with hearty fall flowers like mums, sedum or asters around your front door, or on a porch or deck. Incorporate planters or container gardens of varied sizes, shapes and colors to add visual interest.

Accent with lighting

As summer light fades into shorter, darker days, add exterior accent lighting to the front of your home. Illuminate a walking path with ground-insert solar lights. Or consider solar spotlights to bring out landscaping or to shine on your updated front door. Install matching light fixtures outside your front door, garage door or patio door to provide well-lit entrances that are stylish and inviting to neighbors and guests.

For more curb appeal inspiration, follow Pella on Pinterest and Houzz and visit Pella.com to connect with your local Pella representative for ideas on how to transform the look and comfort of your home inside and out.

Finding the Perfect Deck: Wood or Composite

Is a wood or composite deck right for your home?

(BPT) – Outdoor living is a home improvement trend that can’t be ignored. If you plan to add a deck to your house, remember the design is only one aspect of the planning process. The materials you decide to use can affect the project in numerous ways, from the initial investment to maintenance years from now.

Deciding between wood and composite decking can seem complex. You may have heard composite is superior but costly. You also may have heard that wood is greener yet more susceptible to bugs. Get the facts when it comes to wood versus composite so you can make the right choice for your home.

Cost
Building a deck with composite materials will cost more than virgin wood initially, but not as much as most people think. The substructure is the same cost for either option and the remainder of the project could cost about 25 percent more for composite. That cost, though, is often recouped over time because there is little maintenance required with composites, while maintaining a wood deck can cost hundreds of dollars each year.

Want to see how the numbers compare? Visit www.epa.gov and check out the EPA’s GreenScapes Tools Excel Decking Cost Calculator and an example that compares the cost of building a new deck with composites versus conventional wood.

Maintenance
Low maintenance is in high demand for homeowners, and decking is no exception. Wood decks require major maintenance every one to two years. Nail pops and splinters are common safety hazards with wood decks, as are cracked, warped and rotted boards that need to be replaced. Plus, wood decks must be refinished every year or two, a project that can cost $450 to $850 per year and take an entire weekend or longer to complete.

Capped composite decking from Fiberon will never splinter, crack or require staining, unlike wood decking. This composite decking is so durable that it comes with the industry’s first stain and fade warranty for up to 25 years. Typical maintenance requires just a few hours a year to clean the surface with a deck brush or power sprayer. Visit www.fiberondecking.com to learn more.

Eco-friendly
Many people believe wood is a more environmentally friendly option than composite decking. In actuality, the opposite is true. Composites are created from recycled materials and keep waste out of landfills. Fiberon alone prevents more than 50,000 tons of plastic and other waste from ending up in landfills or incinerators every year. Composite decking also saves trees. In addition to using locally sourced plastics, Fiberon composite decking includes wood scraps acquired from nearby cabinet and door manufacturers.

Furthermore, just because it’s wood doesn’t mean it doesn’t contain chemicals. In fact, most wood lumber is pressure-treated with different chemicals to boost its integrity and make it last longer. Additionally, because wood is susceptible to bugs like termites, you might need to treat the space to prevent infestation. Termites, of course, are not a concern with composite decking.

Appearance

Wood is undeniably beautiful and always blends nicely with the natural elements of the outdoors. But thanks to advanced technology, composites mimic real wood so closely that often you can’t tell the difference. This is particularly beneficial if you want the look of an exotic species without the upkeep. Today, capped composite technology allows for realistic wood coloring and embossed grain patterns.

Bottom line

When planning a new deck, don’t forget the impact your material choice will have on the project. Get the facts and make the right decision so you can enjoy your outdoor spaces to the fullest.

6 Must Do Home Improvements For Severe Summer Weather

6 must-do home improvements to withstand severe summer weather

(BPT) – Mother Nature can be hard on your home, especially during the summer months. Thunderstorms, tornadoes and hurricanes can cause extensive damage to houses and entire communities. Some preparation, however, can help homeowners defend their homes against severe-weather damage.

“It pays to prepare your home to handle the worst of what Mother Nature dishes out in any season,” says Ed Del Grande, a home improvement expert, author, TV host and spokesperson for Kohler. “Damage resulting from storms can create costly repairs, or even force you to leave your home altogether.”

Here are six home improvements you can undertake to help protect your home from summer storm damage:

1. Repair or replace windows.

Check the condition of your home’s windows as well as the weather stripping around them. Re-caulk windows where stripping is worn, and replace any windows that are damaged. If you live in an area prone to storms and high winds, such as those from hurricanes and tornadoes, consider investing in some plywood or permanent storm shutters that you can keep on hand to cover windows when a storm approaches.

2. Trim trees and shrubs, and take care of landscaping.

Keep your yard free of debris and items like kids’ toys and gardening tools. During storms with high winds, debris and items on the lawn can become projectiles that damage siding and windows. Inspect trees and shrubs to ensure they’re healthy. Remove diseased trees, which are more likely to come down in a storm, and keep trees and shrubs trimmed to minimize the risk of branches damaging your house.

3. Install a standby generator.

Power outages are a common result of severe weather, and losing power can cause further damage to your home. Automatic standby generators, like those from Kohler, turn on within seconds of a utility power outage, run on propane or natural gas and are connected to the home, similar to an outdoor air conditioning unit. Automatic standby generators keep critical appliances operating when the power goes out, ensuring you won’t go without refrigerators, sump pumps, and critical home systems such as air conditioning. If you’re interested in learning more about standby power options, visit www.KohlerGenerators.com for informational videos, sizing calculators and other helpful information.

4. Install a sump pump.

Summer storms frequently bring flooding to many areas of the country. If your home has a basement, investing in a sump pump – which removes water when it accumulates in a basin – can help prevent the costly damage caused by flooding. Heavy rains can quickly fill a basement with water, damaging anything stored there, as well as vital systems such as furnaces or water heaters. A sump pump with an automatic sensor will turn on as soon as it detects water, protecting your basement even if you’re not home when the flooding occurs.

5. Take care of gutters.

Clogged gutters can cause flooding in the basement and leaks in the ceiling during storms with heavy rain. Before storm season arrives, check your gutters and clear them of debris. Repair or replace any damaged parts of the overall system. Gutters provide vital protection for your home, so if yours have seen better days, consider replacing them altogether.

6. Install roof clips/hurricane straps.

If you live in an area prone to hurricanes, roof clips or hurricane straps can help ensure the roof stays on your house in high winds. Check building codes in your area, as some states require new construction to be built with these protections. If your home doesn’t have them, a professional can easily retrofit your roof with clips and straps to help prevent the roof from blowing off. Losing the roof is not only a massively costly repair, it means you’ve also lost the part of your home that does the most to protect everything and everyone inside it.

“You can’t control the weather, but you can definitely prepare for it,” Del Grande says. “And you can protect your home and family from bad weather’s worst effects. It’s essential to be proactive, before storm season really gets going.”

Beautiful Lawn DIY

Beautiful lawn DIY: 6 steps to success

(BPT) – Has nicer weather inspired you to find ways to make your home more comfortable, attractive and environmentally sustainable while increasing its value? One feature that can achieve all these goals is a healthy lawn.

Installing and maintaining a natural turf lawn is one of the best home improvement investments a homeowner can make, and it’s the perfect warm-weather DIY project. According to Grass Seed USA, a coalition of American grass seed farmers and academics, the ideal lawn planting season is April through the mid-to-end of October, depending on where you live. Installing a beautiful lawn is simple with six easy steps:

Prepare: Preparation is the most critical part of seeding a lawn. The condition of the soil has to be ideal in order for grass seeds to germinate. To get these conditions, remove any remnants of the old lawn. Use a sod cutter allows you to slice off old grass and weeds at the roots. Then turn the soil with a rotary tiller, adding soil and compost in successive layers to achieve an ideal mix. Both sod cutters and tillers can be rented by the hour or by the day at any major home improvement retailer.

Achieve the right pH: No soil is ready for seeds if it doesn’t have the right pH. Obtain a soil test kit from your local home improvement store. To take a soil pH test, gather soil samples from several places around the area you’ll be seeding.

The pH scale measures acidity and alkalinity, from 0 to 14, with 7.0 being neutral. Grass grows best in soil that has a pH between 6.0 and 7.5. If your soil is too acidic (below 6.0) – a common problem in cooler wet climates like the Northwest and Southeast – you can add lime to bring it up. If it’s mildly alkaline (7.5 to 8.0) – typical of the Midwest – a little peat moss, which is naturally acidic, should correct it. Soil that is very alkaline (more than 8.0), which is more likely to exist in dry, hot climates, needs sulfur.

Fertilize: After your soil has achieved the perfect pH, use a broadcast spreader to apply starter fertilizer to the entire area. Make sure the spreader is adjusted to distribute at the rate outlined on the fertilizer packaging. Look for fertilizer containing nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium at even ratios (such as 10N-10P-10K percentages).

Purchase the right grass seed: One key factor in choosing the right grass seed simply depends on where you live. For the northern region of the country, you will want a cool-season grass like fine and tall fescues or perennial ryegrass. This type of turf grows the most during the cool seasons of spring and fall, and therefore, should be seeded in the spring or fall months. These grasses are typically more shade-tolerant as well.

Warm-season grasses grow in warmer regions of the country. These include grasses like St. Augustine, Bermuda, buffalo, centipede and zoysia. Warm-season grasses achieve their peak growth when summer hits its stride and typically require full sun to thrive. Unlike cool-season turf, warm season turfgrasses should be seeded in the summer months.

Disperse grass seed: Using your broadcast spreader, disperse grass seed evenly over the soil. For larger lawns, use a walk-behind spreader. Be sure to apply an even amount of seed to the entire area. Then, take a plastic leaf rake, turn it upside down, and use the back of the tines to gently work the seeds into the soil. Make short, light strokes. Avoid long sweeping motions, which can redistribute the seeds and cause the grass to grow in uneven patches.

Water: Immediately after dispersing the seeds, lightly water the area with an oscillating-type sprinkler. Set up one or more sprinklers, or move the sprinkler to ensure that the entire area gets dampened. For the first eight to 10 days, water two or three times daily, but only for 5 to 10 minutes. Avoid overwatering, which may wash away the seeds.

Once the grass sprouts, water once a day for 15 to 30 minutes. It’s typically best to water in the morning, when there’s less evaporation and wind is minimal. Avoid watering in the evening; it can lead to fungal diseases. In the event of a summer rain storm, there is no need to water.

Look Good or Feed Good, This Gives Both

Look good or feel good? 5 home improvements that let you do both

(BPT) – Who remembers that old Saturday Night Live bit in which Billy Crystal, posing as Lorenzo Lamas, quips that “It’s better to look good than to feel good”? Home improvement can sometimes shake out that way. Some upgrades that look great don’t do a lot for a homeowner’s emotional or physical health. Others, however, can help your home look good and make its inhabitants feel great.

As you’re planning your spring and summer home projects, consider these five improvements that mean you don’t have to choose between looking good and feeling good.

1. Add more natural light.

The health benefits of natural light are well documented, from improving our bodies’ ability to produce vitamin D to helping boost mood and fight seasonal affective disorder. Natural light also enhances virtually any decor, while helping reduce dependence on artificial light and lowering electricity bills.

Adding a skylight is one of the most impactful, cost-effective ways to increase natural light in virtually any room, even those without direct roof access. Energy Star qualified, solar-powered, fresh-air skylights, like those from Velux America, allow homeowners to reap the health and functional benefits of enhanced natural light and fresh air. Boost the energy efficiency and aesthetic appeal of no-leak venting skylights further by adding solar-powered blinds in designer colors and patterns. Solar powered skylights and blinds are operated by a programmable remote control. Both products, plus the installation costs, are eligible for a 30 percent federal tax credit for energy-efficient home improvements. Visit www.veluxusa.com to learn more.

2. Improve your landscaping.

Of course beautiful landscaping makes your home look great, but it can also improve your health in a number of ways. First, if you do your own yard work, you reap the benefit of outdoor exercise, which can help improve cardiovascular and muscle health.

What’s more, plants remove carbon dioxide and particulates from the air, acting as natural purifiers – so your lovely trees and flowers can also help improve your outdoor air quality. If you’re concerned about allergies, choose plants known for producing little or no airborne spores or pollens. Fortuitously, the plants that are the prettiest in your landscaping – those that produce big, showy blossoms – also produce the least amount of pollen, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Finally, don’t overlook the mood-boosting effects of looking at a lush, beautiful landscape. Multiple studies have shown that being surrounded by plants – or even just looking at a picture of a beautiful landscape – can help relieve stress and improve mental states.

3. Repaint with eco-friendly paints.

Painting is one of the easiest, most cost-effective ways to make a room look good. But some types of paints can release fumes such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air, and such fumes have been linked to both short-term and long-term respiratory problems.

To make your room look good and improve how you feel, choose VOC-free paint types. Some manufacturers offer durable interior paints in designer colors that emit no VOCs and give off little or no odor throughout the painting process. You can even find eco-friendly paints that are made from natural ingredients such as plants and minerals. The truly eco-conscious will breathe easier knowing the paint they’ve chosen looks good and that it’s not harmful to their families or environment.

4. Improve ventilation.

An EPA study showed that indoor air quality can be worse than the air outside your home. Poor air quality has been linked to a host of health issues, from respiratory problems to eye irritation, headaches and even depression. Improving the ventilation in your home can help everyone who lives there feel better – and you can do it with style.

Venting skylights are a great way to passively, cost-effectively improve indoor air quality, plus privacy, especially in baths. You can also enhance ventilation and air movement through the use of ceiling fans and exhaust fans. Both types of ventilation enhancers are available in a variety of designs and styles to match virtually any decor.

5. Renovate your kitchen or bathroom.

And the top home improvement that’s good for your home’s beauty, your health and happiness, and home value? Renovating an outdated kitchen or bathroom. The two rooms consistently score highest in terms of return on investment in Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value report. It’s widely known that great kitchens and bathrooms sell houses, too – which can be a major stress-reliever if you’ll be putting your home on the market this spring or summer. But updated kitchens and baths can be good for your health in a number of other ways.

High-tech enhancements like touchless faucets and germ-resistant surfaces on countertops and appliances can help thwart the spread of illness-causing germs. Replacing old, deteriorating cabinets and flooring can help reduce mold, mildew and airborne irritants. Adding a water-filtration system at the sink or in a new refrigerator can help improve the taste and healthfulness of drinking water. Additionally, replacing traditional drywall with moisture-resistant gypsum panels can inhibit the growth of mold and mildew.

5 Ways to Give Your Home and Lawn a Spring Refresh

5 ways to give your home and lawn the spring refresh they need

(BPT) – With winter finally a distant memory, it’s time to get ready for spring. Prepare your home and lawn for guests and barbecues to come with a few simple DIY tips for inside and outside the house.

When it comes to weed control, driveway repairs, home maintenance projects and more, these tips can help you accomplish more around your home so you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy the results all summer long.

* Weed control: The first green plants to pop up in your yard always seem to be weeds, and they constantly find their way between the cracks in patios and pathways. Instead of eliminating weeds with harsh chemicals, which could be harmful to children or pets, or bending down to pull them by hand, you can burn away pesky weeds using a BernzOmatic JT850 Lawn and Garden Torch. It is specially designed for outdoor use with a 36-inch extended-reach handle. The flame instantly destroys unwanted weeds, and the handle helps keep you from bending or crouching. Be sure to sweep the area before using the torch to remove any loose materials that might catch fire.

* Garage maintenance: Not only is spring a time to reorganize and clean out the garage, but the garage itself deserves a deep clean. After housing your car all winter long, oil spots and stains on the garage floor have likely formed. Use oven cleaner for old stains, or sprinkle a heavy layer of cat litter on the stains, and use your foot to press in, leaving on until the stain disappears. With spring rains and humidity high, keep rust out of your toolbox and off your tools with charcoal. A few bricks in your toolbox will soak in any moisture, keeping things dry and ready to use all season long.

* Prep your driveway: Cold temperatures, ice and snow do a number on blacktop asphalt driveways during the winter. Improve your home’s curb appeal by repairing minor or semi-deep cracks. Fill the cracks with rubberized sealant and melt the sealant with the Lawn and Garden Torch. Holding the torch just a few inches away liquefies the sealant to make a waterproof repair.

* Paint stripping: Sometimes winter weather can leave your home looking a bit haggard, especially if exterior paint is peeling away. Try the BernzOmatic TS4000 Trigger-Start Torch to strip old paint off outside surfaces such as gutters. The torch features a trigger on/off switch for easy lighting and better control. Before you get started, make sure the paint is not lead based and that surrounding material, such as old wood, isn’t flammable. Use the torch to heat the paint until it begins to bubble. Once cooled, take a scraper and peel off the paint. Wear a protective mask when conducting this job on the outside of your house.

* Furniture refresh: Spring is all about rejuvenation. Give your weather-worn picnic table or wooden patio furniture a makeover using a torch to give new life to old wood. The Trigger Start Torch can be used to bring out the wood grain, adding rustic charm and character to your wooden patio furniture. Sand the wood first to remove all traces of stain. Then run the flame of the torch over the wood. It burns the wood and brings out the grain in a dramatic way that will give your patio a delightful style for the summer season.

For more information about BernzOmatic products, visit www.BernzOmatic.com.

Creating An Island Paradise

Creating an island paradise: Tips for adding an island in your kitchen renovation

(BPT) – Custom cabinetry, granite countertops, reclaimed wood flooring and accents, and top-of-the-line, high-tech appliances – what more do you need to make your kitchen renovation perfect? How about adding an island? Designers and builders across the country are pointing to the addition of an island as the must-have upgrade for kitchen renovations this year.

Homeowners are embracing the island, and what’s not to love about it? Adding an island can dramatically alter a kitchen’s appearance, provide additional storage space and work area, and create a fresh focal point for family meals. What’s more, common challenges that have historically held homeowners back from adding islands – such as the difficulty and high costs associated with adding plumbing drainage in the center of the room – are easier to solve than ever.

Plumbing problem solved

While you could add an island without plumbing, having a sink in an island can improve the workflow in a kitchen and open up counter space elsewhere. Plumbing an island can be problematic, however, if your home is built on a slab or a crawl space. The cost of cutting through concrete and adding piping can be prohibitive.

Above-floor plumbing can solve the problem. Manufacturers like Saniflo make a variety of pumping systems that can eliminate the need to cut concrete and reduce the cost of installing plumbing in a new island. For example, the SANISWIFT gray water pumping system is about the size of a small wastebasket (so it fits easily in an island cabinet space), and comes out of the box fully assembled, reducing installation time and costs.

“Cutting through concrete to install plumbing can easily account for 50 percent of a renovation budget,” says Chris Peterson of Saniflo. “Homeowners may decide to abandon the idea of an island altogether when they face that kind of cost. Above-floor plumbing allows them to add an island, hide a single drain pipe in a decorative column, and achieve the kitchen of their dreams at a fraction of the cost of traditional plumbing options.”

Top island trends

Islands are increasingly becoming the focal point of kitchen renovations, serving both practical purposes and as design statements.

More homeowners are replacing traditional dining tables and breakfast nooks with spacious islands that feature seating. “Islands are replacing tables,” said Audrey Macdonald of Creative Interiors By Audrey in Mississauga, Ontario, in the National Kitchen & Bath Association’s 2015 Kitchen & Bath Style Report.

In addition to seating, homeowners are incorporating restaurant-quality fittings into islands, adding charging stations for the family’s personal digital devices. They’re also choosing architectural and design touches such as decorative legs, and countertops and cabinetry that contrast with those around the perimeter of the kitchen.

Kitchen renovations continue to be among the most popular home improvement projects and can offer homeowners a high return on their investments. A major kitchen remodel costing about $56,000 can recoup nearly 68 percent of its cost when you sell your home, while a minor remodel in the range of $19,000 can yield a 79 percent ROI upon resale, according to Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value Report.

Raise Your Rooms to New Heights with Eye-Catching Ceilings

Raise your rooms to new heights with eye-catching ceilings

(BPT) – Want to infuse your home with architectural interest? Start at the top.

“The ceiling is the most overlooked design element in a space, hands down,” said Brian Patrick Flynn, whose interiors are regularly featured on HGTV.com and often showcased by his own company, FlynnsideOut Productions.

Consider this: The largest solid surface in a room – besides the floor – is the ceiling. Instead of leaving it bright white or builder beige, convert this blank canvas into a decorative canopy of color and texture.

Flynn and other influential designers are forecasting a ceiling “revival” in 2015. Fresh interpretations of vintage styles – such as gleaming metal tiles and textural wood beams – are helping inspire that trend, along with new, easy-to-install products that put these ceiling projects well within the reach of today’s DIY-ers.

“Just like people, rooms need different layers to be one-of-a kind,” Flynn said. “That includes a ceiling that makes people look up and scan the entire space.”

Here are some hot ceiling trends to take your rooms to new heights:

* Layer on the luster. Stamped metal ceilings have contributed shine and sophistication to American homes since they were introduced in the 1880s. Besides beauty, metal ceilings offer practicality. They resist mold and mildew, offer sag resistance and last longer than plaster or drywall. Metallaire metal ceiling tiles from Armstrong are available in 12 patterns, and a variety of finishes, including chrome, copper, brass, white and lacquered steel. The lacquered steel panels also can be painted to accent or blend with the rest of the room. Regardless of the finish, the texture of the tiles creates a tactile top layer to the space.

* Mix and match ceiling styles. Some room designers are combining different decorating elements at the top, such as inlaying the recesses of coffered ceilings with gold or copper tiles. Flynn said he’s also a fan of tongue-and-groove ceilings accented with beams. “This adds a ton of visual interest to the room, and can make it feel much larger,” he said.

* Create character with wood. From rustic timber to sleek teak, wood hues help set the tone in a room. Besides imparting a sense of warmth, the grains and knots in wood panels add a textural layer that contrasts nicely with smooth surfaces like painted walls and granite countertops.

* Add architectural depth. Coffered ceilings first appeared in Roman architecture, and their geometric elegance has graced grand buildings ever since. Today, the cost and complexity of building coffered ceilings have been reduced by lightweight materials and easy-to-install prefabricated systems that boast features like mold, mildew and sag resistance.

Flynn recommends homeowners start thinking about their ceiling by exploring websites for ideas. A good place to start is www.armstrong.com/residential-ceilings, which offers hundreds of examples, including some interesting before-and-after photos.

Creating Character With Hardwood moulding

Creating characterful interiors with hardwood moulding

(BPT) – Just as tasteful, well-chosen jewelry can turn an unexciting outfit into a stylish, eye-catching ensemble, carefully applied hardwood mouldings and trimwork can transform a plain-Jane interior into an interesting – even beautiful – space.

Today’s newly built houses often lack any sort of carved-wood ornamentation. Many older homes have lost their traditional decorative details through successive modernizing renovations. To transform stripped-down to charming, and ordinary to characterful, homeowners are incorporating decorative millwork to enhance their interior design.

While there is an almost infinite variety of hardwood mouldings and trims, the pros at the American Hardwood Information Center, www.Hardwoodinfo.com, and most design experts, recognize the following most basic categories:

* Baseboards, which run at the foot of walls and act as an elongated pedestal, are both aesthetic and practical. They visually anchor the wall to the floor and at the same time protect it from everyday low-impact abuse such as kids scooting around in toy cars.

* Crown mouldings, which run between the walls and the ceiling, soften the abrupt transition between wall and ceiling.

* Casings, the trim surrounding door and window openings, define a wall opening and help connect the spaces being joined.

“Our clients are attracted to the enduring quality and ageless appeal of hardwood moulding,” says architect Jeff Murphy, principal of Murphy & Co. Design, a Buffalo, Minnesota–based firm. “For them, it’s the heart of the home – something they see and touch each day. Done right, it will last forever and always be in style.”

For architect Tim Button of New York City–based Stedila Design, hardwood mouldings are appropriate in any room in the home, but he also says, “I think wood trim often makes its biggest impact in an entry hall where high ceilings allow for large-scale crown mouldings.” And he’s a fan of using stained-wood mouldings in bathrooms, “because it brings warmth to what can be a somewhat clinical space.”

Edina, Minnesota–based architect Meriwether Felt agrees, having installed stained-cherry mouldings, trims, and casings in the master bath of a home she renovated. “The client asked for a luxurious yet elegant feeling and the cherry fit the bill perfectly. The stained wood warms up the bathroom and provides richness.”

The size of the trimwork and the complexity of its profile will be determined by the size and style of the space in which it’s being installed; the larger and more traditional the room, the bigger and more ornate the trim. Crown mouldings in particular have a profound and sometimes unexpected effect on how people perceive the scale, proportions and character of an interior, so they must be chosen with great care. If too small and plain, they’ll look skimpy and undernourished; too large and ostentatious and they’ll overwhelm the space. If in doubt, consult a design professional.

Before the Civil War, American hardwood moulding was made by hand, so it tended to be simple, elegant and expensive. In the later 19th Century, methods of mass production enabled builders to deck out even modest houses with affordable wood trim in ever-more-complex profiles. The 20th Century saw decorative simplifications of the Arts and Crafts style, emphasizing clean lines, unfussy forms and the inherent beauty of natural wood. This was followed by the Art Deco and Modernist movements, which further streamlined or completely eliminated applied architectural ornament such as mouldings and trims.

Today, tastes tend to be eclectic, and whether you install an elaborately carved crown moulding featuring acanthus leaves and egg-and-dart detailing or an elegantly austere profile comprising nothing more than a graceful S-curve, will depend on personal preference and the overall style of your home.

No matter what your architectural preferences might be, you can transform a plain-Jane interior into a distinctive, characterful environment by incorporating hardwood mouldings and trimwork into your home’s design. Visit the American Hardwood Information Center, www.hardwoodInfo.com, and be inspired.

5 Easy Kitchen and Bath Upgrades

5 easy kitchen and bath upgrades that take only hours to complete

(BPT) – Do your kitchen and bathrooms look a bit drab? If you don’t have the time or budget for a full remodel, there are still many simple updates you can do to refresh these spaces and invigorate each with impressive style. From affordable faucet updates to pretty paints, each takes one day or less to complete, instantly providing a dramatic effect.

Freshen the faucet
Almost anyone who enters the bathroom or kitchen will use the faucet, which means it’s a functional focal point of the space. Installing a new faucet is a simple way to redefine interior design and reflect your own personal style. The new line of Kohler faucets available at Home Depot offers exceptional quality at an affordable price. For example, set the ambience in your bathroom with the Georgeson line of faucets, inspired by the Gatsby era with chic detailing and unique shapes to provide a decorative, eclectic touch. For those who prefer traditional silhouettes, the Mistos kitchen faucet’s soft lines and classic aesthetic provide a timeless, upscale look.

Update hardware and accessories
Cabinet hardware and other accessories do for a room what jewelry does for an outfit – they provide the finishing touches that really elevate the space. Fortunately, it’s simple and economical to swap out dated hardware for new handles, knobs and pulls. Popular metal finishes include brushed nickel, oil-rubbed bronze and chrome. For bathrooms, update accessories to match your new Kohler faucet – each line includes coordinating accessories like towel bars, showerheads and tub fillers.

Experiment with paint
Paint is one of the most affordable ways to dramatically change the look and energy of a space. If you have dated tile, research if tile paint is an option for your kitchen or bath. Don’t be afraid to experiment with color – a rich or vivid color on a focal wall can add instant style, like on the wall behind the tub or stove. Don’t forget the fifth wall: a fresh white ceiling instantly brightens the area and visually heightens the room, which can make the space feel larger and more modern.

Frame the mirror
Every bathroom has a mirror, and some kitchens and adjacent dining spaces feature mirrors as well. A mirror provides a focal point while reflecting light to make it appear brighter. But if you have a builder-grade mirror, you’re probably longing for more style. Instead of investing in a costly new mirror, simply add a new frame around your current one. You can buy a prefabricated frame or create one yourself fairly easily from supplies at your local craft store. Your boring old mirror will be transformed immediately into an upscale alternative.

Swap light fixtures and bulbs
If your current bathroom and kitchen light fixtures evoke nostalgia from a lost era, it’s time for a swap. Pick out a new overhead fixture to instantly dress up the room – modern chandeliers, track lighting and recessed lighting are popular options. For bathrooms, installing task lighting by the mirror can help streamline daily routines. Keep in mind, cool, bright white bulbs with a high color-rendering index (CRI) closely reflect natural light and therefore are a good option for bathrooms as well as cooking spaces.

Repurpose Garage Doors Into Walls With A View

Repurposing garage doors into stunning walls with a view

(BPT) – Have you ever admired a coffee table cleverly fabricated using a discarded door sitting on a frame? Or been surprised by the sight of an old refrigerator reborn as a bookshelf or TV cabinet? Even bathroom fixtures have been known to draw notice (and a snicker or two) when repurposed as garden containers.

A growing number of homeowners are taking utilitarian home elements and transforming them with creative flair into stunning home designs. Even the venerable garage door is experiencing new life as interior room dividers, exterior walls and other purposes yet to be discovered.

“Many homeowners are opening their homes to the great outdoors by using garage doors instead of sliding glass doors,” says Vickie Lents, director of marketing for Entrematic, a leading company in the garage door industry known for smart innovation and design.“It’s a particularly popular trend in coastal and mountain areas where the outdoor views are naturally incredible, allowing homeowners to enjoy the view from indoors as well as outdoors.”

In addition to providing great views of the outdoors, using garage doors as exterior walls also provides the added benefit of offering a cross-breeze through the home in temperate climates. For many months of the year, a garage door that opens to the exterior can save on cooling costs. After all, when you think about it, a garage door that opens to the exterior serves as an enormous window.

Garage doors with clear glass held in place by an aluminum grid system are the common standard in residential applications. Homeowners gravitate to glass garage doors when used as exterior and interior walls because of their clean, modern look.

For interior use of garage doors, many architects and homeowners prefer using garage doors without electronic motors, which can be unsightly when suspended from the door’s track system. Now, they can choose a track-less, spring-less and rail-less garage door system with an integrated opener for a state-of-the-art solution for the home: the Silvelox Trento Collection distributed by Entrematic.

Unlike traditional garage doors that operate via a series of springs, rails and tracks along the ceiling that can be cumbersome on the interior of a home, the Trento Collection of garage doors showcase revolutionary technology and Italian design, featuring a patented overlap design that allows the door to open by folding neatly in half without any ceiling hardware. This innovative design eliminates all the clutter behind a typical garage door and allows for a clean interior space, perfect when the door is connected to interior home living spaces.

Whether they feature a modern or traditional operating system, garage doors can serve as more than windows to divide indoor living space from the outside. Interior designers and homeowners have gravitated toward the trend of using garage doors to divide room space as well. Particularly when used as interior room dividers, garage doors with frosted or tinted glass offer privacy when closed but can be opened to create expansive indoor space.

“Garage doors make such a statement when incorporated into home designs. There’s instant intrigue and excitement when guests see them,” Lents says. “The doors are practical in function and offer the ‘wow factor’ that homeowners want.”

Learn About This Home Improvement That Can Save You Money

For many homeowners the biggest utility bill is electricity. Heating and cooling the home makes up nearly half of electricity costs, but the next biggest source is the water heater. Water heaters can account for up to 25 percent of total household energy use. Taking steps to improve the energy efficiency of a home with better insulation and more efficient furnaces and air conditioners can reduce energy costs significantly, as can making sure water heaters are operating properly.

However, purchasing a high efficiency water heater does little good if the environment in which it operates is not right. The main culprit in reducing the efficiency of water heaters is hard water. Nearly 90 percent of American homes have hard water which contains high levels of calcium and magnesium. These minerals cause scaling, a buildup that clogs waterlines and plumbing forcing appliances to work harder and operate less efficiently. Hard water can reduce the efficiency of water heaters and increase electricity costs by as much as 48 percent according to the Battelle Memorial Institute.

The problem can be particularly severe with electric water heaters. These can accumulate up to 30 pounds of calcium carbonate, a rock-like scale, eventually damaging the heating element which will have to be replaced. The cost of hard water is not higher just because of reduced energy efficiency and higher electric bills; hard water also damages appliances like water heaters, dish washers, shower heads and faucets. These must be repaired and replaced more often as a result.

To determine if you have hard water, look for spots and scale build-up on fixtures. “A less obvious indication is the lack of that luxury feeling of a hot shower you get at a nice hotel,” says Michael Mecca of Performance Water Products. “That feeling is not because of the nice towels and soaps. It’s because nice hotels use soft water not only for their guests’ benefit but also to protect their investments in boilers, piping and fixtures.”

Kitchens benefit from soft water as well because soft water is up to 12 times more effective at cleaning dishes than increasing the amount of detergent used. Researchers also found that for washing machines, the most important factor in removing stains from clothing was water softness. Reduction of water hardness was up to 100 times more effective at stain removal than increasing the detergent dose or washing with hotter water. In fact, soft water can reduce soap use by as much as half.

Many water treatment companies offer free tests to homeowners to measure the degree of hardness in the water and offer appropriate systems that fit. “Hardness in water can vary widely in some parts of the country and pipe size, number of bathrooms, number of people in the house, types of showerheads and intended use all need to be considered for the right system,” says Mecca.

“Wells in particular are susceptible to hard water since municipal water departments often take care of the worst offenders such as iron-manganese-hydrogen sulfide. Even if you get municipal water you likely still have calcium and other hard water deposits and can benefit from a water softener. Systems for well water will cost a little more but it is well worth it,” he adds.

The only way to truly remove the calcium and magnesium from household water systems is with a salt-based water softener. These remove the scaling in the pipes entirely by running the incoming hard water through a resin filter that traps the calcium and magnesium in the water – as well as any iron, manganese or radium ions. It then replaces them with sodium ions.

A salt-based water softener is one home improvement that will not only pay for itself but add value to a home. A properly sized quality water softener appliance can save a homeowner thousands of dollars over its life in reduced soap and detergent costs, electricity, efficiency and extended life for expensive appliances.

Curb energy loss with smart home renovation investments

While homeowners may not immediately think of their attic as a major source of energy loss, the reality is that as much as 25 percent of the energy lost in the average American home occurs there. As the weather begins to get cooler, you may be inclined to increase the thermostat to maintain a warm and comfortable home. However, air leakage, caused by numerous gaps and cracks throughout your home’s infrastructure, particularly the attic, can cause your HVAC equipment to work overtime and place a strain on your wallet every month.

The U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says the attic is one of the easiest places within the home to address energy loss. There are several smart home renovation investments that homeowners can make to reduce excessive energy loss through the attic.

Ensuring your home has a polyolefin plastic house wrap is one common method to minimize air leakage. This type of wrap is commonly installed during the construction process as part of an integrated, whole building envelope system. Having your home professionally caulked and sealed is another simple and quick investment that addresses energy loss within the home. Another consideration is having whole house fans installed. These fans help by pulling air through the house and are particularly effective during warmer months.

One of the most effective methods to eliminate air leakage and live greener is ensuring that your attic is insulated with a high performance insulation solution. Traditional insulation is prone to sagging, leaving gaps and absorbing moisture which can have significant health impacts on occupants while allowing for significant energy loss. Replacing your home’s insulation with a high-performance material such as spray foam insulation will both insulate and air seal the entire attic space leading to immediate cost savings. Insulation experts from Icynene suggest that quality spray foam insulation can noticeably reduce heating and cooling costs, in some cases by up to 50 percent. These savings will continue over the long-term.

A growing number of building professionals are recommending spray foam insulation as a valuable, cost-effective solution. Suitable for any climate, spray foam insulation helps retain the conditioned air within the building, allowing the heating and cooling equipment to work more efficiently rather than compensating for energy losses through the attic space. As a result of the improved energy consumption, heating and cooling costs are kept down and air leaks become a thing of the past. Homeowners can learn the five easy steps of selecting the right insulation for their home on icynene.com.

Timeless interior design – perfect for protecting your kitchen investment

Kitchens are the heart of the home. It’s where you prepare meals, help your kids with homework and entertain guests. It’s the room in the house where everyone gathers, where memories are made, and, with solid investment, can single-handedly increase the value of your home and help you build more of a nest egg. Even if you’re considering selling your home, all eyes of prospective buyers will inevitably be on the kitchen.

“When making investments in your home, the kitchen is unanimously the best place to start,” says Nate Berkus, renowned decorator, designer and artistic advisor for LG Studio appliances. “For me, a great kitchen is one that feels timeless. To accomplish that, reach for what feels classic for the space like subway tiles and stainless steel, and allow the elements that tell your story to come through in the non-permanent fixtures like the furniture, fabrics and details.”

Here are Berkus’ five tips for designing a forever kitchen that will sustain its value, whether you’re looking to put your house on the market or simply updating it for your family’s enjoyment:

1. A timeless look: When it comes to making big design decisions in your kitchen, put aside trends and go with timeless and elegant. Reach for what feels classic like white subway tiles, brass and stainless steel appliances – things that will look as good 10 years from now as they do today. The entire LG Studio line of premium, built-in appliances, for example, was designed with a signature look, feel and style that will easily transition with you through the years.

2. Paint: I don’t know why people always grimace when I say to paint wood. It isn’t a cardinal sin, especially in the kitchen. Tearing out cabinets isn’t always an option, but painting, while a bit of work, is one of my favorite things to do. Reach for black. It sets off all the appliances and makes for a dramatic change.

3. Brighten with lights: I tell my clients this all the time – lighting is one of the most important decisions you can make in any room, including the kitchen. I love vintage pendant lights over an island or table. Since lighting can often add to a dated vibe of the space, swapping it out for something more timeless immediately makes the space appear more modernized – perfect for illuminating any potential buyers.

4. The long haul: Making over a kitchen is no small feat. It’s expensive and time consuming. Trust me when I say I get it. So, your best asset is information. Start building that Pinterest board to identify what you like. Once you have that, you can start to attach costs. Mine always starts with what’s permanent like the cabinets, appliances and tiles. These, along with the appropriate team to help you make and install all of it, are your best investments. From there, consider ways that you can have what you want at a price you can live with. I’ve seen the most amazing islands fashioned from unique things like a farm table, or hutches that are free standing on a wall as opposed to extending your cabinets. These can all be ways to get a big look without the big price tag.

5. Consider technology: The home of the future is actually here today. It’s one that is wired for sound, TV and Wi-Fi. Simply put, our kitchen island is command central for more than meal prep. For many of us it’s also the office. So, to add value to this space, don’t undervalue what will make life easier, like outlets that have USB ports in the wall and island, charging docks and TVs. We do so much more in this space than cook. So, to add value, add ways for you be connected … just not at the dinner table.

Simple steps to make your holiday guests feel at home

Make your holiday guests feel at home with these five helpful steps

The holiday season makes for a memorable time of year, providing the chance to visit with old friends and relatives you might not see often. Equipping yourself with the right tools early on can be the key to enjoying a stress-free hosting experience this season, while ensuring your guests’ visit is as comfortable as possible. Following these simple tips will help you create a welcoming home so you can spend more time doing the things you enjoy most.

* Create room. Guests staying at your home may bring a large suitcase or two, so make sure you’ve allocated appropriate storage space ahead of time. Set aside a few coat hangers just for them, as well as a small section in the closet or a dresser. Having a place to store personal belongings instead of living out of a suitcase will allow your guests to feel more at home and so they can use the holiday break to relax while spending time with you.

* Stock up and save. Holiday celebrations often equate to large meals and constant snacking, so make sure you head to the grocery store to stock up on all the essentials. A bigger fridge like the new “super capacity” four-door model from LG provides a better way to organize and store all those family and friend favorites. It has a “custom chill” drawer between the main refrigerator and freezer that can act as either extra refrigerator or soft freezer space – perfect for chilling bottles of wine, desserts, meat or seafood. This Energy Star certified refrigerator also includes a “door-in-door” feature which allows quick and easy access to gotta-have snacks in the interior compartment without opening the entire refrigerator, keeping family favorites front and center and conserving energy.

* Make it comfortable. It’s essential to keep your houseguests’ comfort in mind as you plan for their visit. Make up a double bed with four ample sleeping pillows, and two smaller, decorative pillows to prop their head up when reading. Providing both light and heavy blankets will ensure they’re well equipped no matter what the weather is outside. Also, stock up on toiletries to avoid late night runs for new toothbrushes and toothpaste. Incorporating small luxuries like a unique soap or special shampoo in the guest bathroom builds a nice, warmhearted feeling for guests.

* Invest in the right cleaning tools. Appliances with advanced cleaning technologies can be a great addition to your home so you can spend more time catching up with your guests, and less time doing chores. For instance, LG’s new EasyClean technology allows for a seamless oven cleaning process, cutting cleaning time from hours to minutes, so you have more time to spend cooking the holiday meal. Investing in an Energy Star certified washer with TurboWash technology that can handle cleaning larger loads more efficiently assures convenience before and after your guests’ stay at your home, as washers with this innovation may save users up to 30 minutes per load of laundry. More basic tools, like a sweeper with disposable cloths, are beneficial in quickly picking up crumbs and dust around the floor of your home.

* Assemble the sitting area. A little preparation can add the upmost convenience to your guests’ stay from the moment they roll out of bed each morning all the way until bedtime, so make sure the main living room has enough room for everyone to comfortably enjoy each others’ company. If space allows, set up an additional chair or two and a good, adjustable lamp. Creating a small library in the living room, inclusive of magazines and daily newspapers, is an ideal way to occupy your guests during the down time of their stay. You may also consider setting up a speaker system to play music, so guests are always entertained – even when you’re busy cooking the holiday feast.

The holidays are a special time of year and provide a chance to connect with loved ones you may not otherwise see. Preparing your home using the right techniques can not only maximize the time you spend with your guests, but help enhance your home in the process. To learn more about how new appliances can save you energy, time and money throughout the holiday season and all year long, visit www.lg.com/us/appliances.

How to use texture, colors and accessories to bring emotion to your home

Home decor can convey many different emotions – from warmth and comfort on cold and dreary winter days to elegance and festiveness during the holiday season. The colors and materials you use set the stage; everything from the textures that appear in the accessories, the arrangement of the furniture and even how sound reverberates in a room.

It’s important to give your home new energy by occasionally redecorating one or more rooms. This is the perfect time of year to hire a designer and start looking at furniture and color schemes so your project is finished in time for spring and summer entertaining. Whether you’re working on the kitchen, bath or living area of your home, you might consider Porcelanosa, which offers some of the most advanced tile, kitchen and bath products that can enhance energy levels and emotions in the room you’re updating. The company has been around for more than 40 years – starting in a small village in Spain – and is always bringing avant-garde European design to homeowners and professionals around the world.

When redecorating a room to create a new emotion in your home, be sure to consider all the elements, from the floors to the ceiling, that harmoniously work together in developing the room’s ambiance. Here are some elements that can define a room’s emotion, whether you seek the look of a European industrial sleek getaway, or a rural rustic retreat.

* Flooring – Colors, patterns and even sheen work together to create feelings in a room through flooring. Flooring options range from stone, marble, ceramic and wood – to name a few – and all of these come in a multitude of colors and patterns. Some homeowners choose to design their floors to blend in, creating a neutral backdrop for the rest of the room’s decorations. Others design the floor to be the focal point of the space, with dramatic colors. Work with a designer to determine what style of flooring will help create the feeling you want in your room. Bigger pieces allow for smaller grout joints thus facilitating maintenance and creating an increased perception of the space.

* Walls – A warm, almost rustic ambiance permeates a room surrounded with beautiful grained wood decorating the walls. However, wooden walls also require a bit of maintenance with cleaning and refinishing, and can be easily scratched or dented. A great way to keep the beautiful look of wood with durability against dents and scratches is to use Taco Oxford or Liston Oxford ceramic tiles from Porcelanosa. These two designs emulate the grain and striation of oak wood, extending the warmth of the room for a modern or rustic base. Because they’re ceramic tile, they are durable, easy-to-clean and hypoallergenic.

Or consider bringing texture into your room by adding visible and touchable textures with dramatic raised patterns to your walls. Porcelanosa wall coverings range from refined in the Nara patterning to intense in the Suede pattern, creating beautiful sculptured finishes to walls. These interesting and unique designs can immediately transform the energy in a room as a feature wall. To learn more and explore the textures yourself, contact a Porcelanosa design consultant and get your decorating plan underway.

* Furniture lines – Bathrooms are usually the first rooms to be upgraded and redecorated, because guests and homeowners alike use them so frequently. Often these rooms are small; using wall mounted vanities and furniture with clean lines can help create a larger sense of the space. Geometric patterns also impart a sense of order to a room. The Porcelanosa Ciclo series capitalizes on this concept, with wall-hanging vanities, pivoting wall shelving units and raised sinks to illustrate geometric patterns highlighting excellent – but out of view – storage.

Discuss with your designer your thoughts on flooring, walls and furniture lines to create the perfect blend of emotions in your room’s decor. Once finished, it will be a room you’ll enjoy spending time in, and can’t wait to show off to visiting guests this holiday season.

Which kitchen style best matches your personality?

Find out what kitchen style best matches your personality

Everyone has a preferred style of kitchen, no matter if you’re a chef at heart or just prefer to heat something frozen using the microwave. You may be surprised to discover your personality influences the style of kitchen you prefer. So, do you know what style matches your personality?

From a modern/urban industrial look to a comfy cottage look, there’s one style of kitchen that’s perfect for you. Read on to find out what you like best and how to easily and affordably get the look you truly want:

Cottage – Inviting, warm, cheerful, charming … these words describe this kitchen style – and your personality – perfectly. The color pallet for a cottage kitchen is light and includes white and soft tones. Open shelves and an apron-style sink help create the warm feeling in this kitchen. When you invite your friends over, you talk about the vintage decor you’ve used to make the space feel like home. To help create this look on a budget, shop the flea markets for decorations.

Mediterranean – You have an old soul, and you want your kitchen decorated in an earthy, colorful style with old-world charm. It’s the perfect blend of friendly and vivacious energy with tiled backsplashes, wrought iron detailing, exposed ceiling beams with brick-style flooring and raised-panel cabinets in dark wood tones. A granite countertop will really tie the entire look together, and you can accomplish this look without exceeding your budget by using Giani Granite Countertop Paint in Sicilian Sand. You’ll be pleased with how beautiful the result looks, and you’ll love that you didn’t have to overspend to accomplish the style.

Traditional – Bright, complex and sparkling are the details that exist in a traditional kitchen, and you love how architectural details bring character to the kitchen space. Warm neutral colors with decorative cabinet doors in an antique finish in the kitchen echo your approachable personality. If you want to achieve this look without needing to purchase new cabinets, consider trying Nuvo Cabinet Paint in Coconut Espresso or Euro Taupe colors.

Urban industrial – The kitchen that best fits your new-age swagger is the urban industrial style, complete with a neutral base color accented with pops of color and edgy art. The look is effortless with touches of well-traveled, rustic, modern, bold and unique. The architecture is open, with brick wall, exposed ducts and pipes or even a chalkboard wall. The furniture is unique and often mismatched, promoting individuality in each piece. Because the look is easy, you prefer open shelves instead of cabinets, and like the look and usefulness of wooden crates for storage.

When your personality and kitchen style match, you’ll discover it’s a space you call home. If you’ve let your budget keep you from the kitchen of your dreams, think again. If your space doesn’t quite match your personality perfectly, there are simple, budget-friendly steps you can take to get the style you want. For the hottest trends and further information about your style of kitchen, check out www.pinterest.com/gianigranite.

Popular home decor style – a blend of old and new

(BPT) – It can be hard to keep up with the latest changes in decorating styles for the home. But the latest trend might actually make it easy for you to have a stylish house, especially if you’ve kept some family treasures around.

Mixing traditional and contemporary decor within a home can give your spaces a warm, yet up-to-date, feel. Keeping those traditional accents, furniture pieces or even wallpaper in your home and blending them with contemporary elements that have clean lines or bright colors can create a relaxed and attention-grabbing look. You can incorporate this style in any room of the home, and it allows you to display that mirror your grandma had in her bathroom, or to bring new life and energy to the aged marble countertops in your kitchen.

Try these tips to help get the most out the old, while bringing a new look to your home:

* Accent with white – One great way to give a room a contemporary balance is to accent with white. The trim, molding, doors and even decorative linens you use can bring new energy to a furniture item or heirloom piece you’ve had in your family for years. Blending the soft wood tones of older furniture or dark wood floors with cool and fresh white accents will make the room vibrant.  If it’s your kitchen that’s sporting the contemporary white color, add Danze faucets in stainless steel finishes that showcase a more traditional décor to balance the overall feel.

* Choose your finishes with intention – The finish you choose for your fixtures and faucets will have a significant impact on the look and feel of the room. For example, a white sink or toilet fits well when adding contemporary elements versus biscuit, which will bring a more subdued, traditional flavor.  Selecting faucets with a bronze finish could add a noticeable and beautiful deviation to an otherwise white bathroom decor. The Eastham Collection by Danze has a very architectural look that works well in either traditional or contemporary environments. But changing its finish can alter the impact it brings the room.

* Add little touches – An old six-paned window with cracked and worn wood can become a frame for family photos. Wood from an old barn can be used for a coffee table or fireplace mantel. Mix up the chairs around your dining room table by blending both modern and contemporary styles. These little changes in a room’s decor might not be immediately obvious, but as visitors look around the room, they’ll notice the special touches you’ve made by mixing two distinctive styles.

* Incorporate a couple focal pieces – If the shell of your room has a contemporary look, adding a few traditional elements and conversation pieces into the room can create a stunning look. An antique lamp, an old trunk that becomes a side table or a church pew in an entryway can all be attention-getting additions. On the flipside, if your home features traditional wooden floors that have aged beautifully, let the floor take center stage with simple, modern decorations.

Mixing old and new is a decorating trend in today’s home decor, and there are benefits galore to exploring its flavor. You’ll have a beautiful home today, with flexibility to alter it in the years to come. If, in five years, you decide going contemporary is the path for you, simply switch out that bronze faucet with chrome or replace the antique accent pieces in the living room. Regardless of the way you mix traditional and contemporary elements, you can be assured that it won’t overwhelm your guests. Instead, they’ll enjoy experiencing your creativity and the breath of fresh air you brought to your home.

Enjoying retirement in a home suited for an active life

Preparing for retirement with a home designed for aging in place

(BPT) – When it’s time to retire, do baby boomers just sit back and watch life pass them by? Not anymore. Boomers are known for getting involved in their communities, enjoying the outdoors and starting new – or restarting older – hobbies. They also love spending time with family.

This active lifestyle means boomers don’t want to take care of the large homes they lived in for years while raising children. In fact, they’re ready to downsize, and want to design their homes to be exactly what they need for their retirement years.

Downsizing into a new home – one that can adapt to boomers’ changing needs as well as accommodate their occasional desire to entertain guests – is a great way to enjoy retirement in comfort and style. And with the customizable features available through Clayton Homes, they won’t regret downsizing at all. Boomers can choose these features in The Holland home model by Clayton Homes, specifically designed for the active boomer, and continue entertaining in these prime years.

Consider the following customizable features available in these homes:

* Bragging wall – Every parent and grandparent loves to show off photos of their children and grandchildren. A wall designed specifically for hanging photos, awards and other proud mementoes gives parents and grandparents the perfect opportunity to share stories with visitors.

* Handy but hidden entertainment – When friends and family come over, consider how efficient it is to have a built-in cabinet that flips open to serve as a beverage station. When visitors are not around, tucking the beverage station away into a designated place makes the home more open. Another customizable feature is a support column that acts as a wine storage cubby with a built-in bench beside it.

* Accessible laundry – Placing laundry facilities close to the bedroom is great for baby boomers. The space doesn’t need to be large, but sometimes when a small space is designed for laundry, you lose out on those wonderful additional features, such as drying racks. Clayton Homes has alleviated this issue by installing pull-out hanging racks or built-in storage above the machines and off the floor.

* Bedroom luxury – Enjoy a home that segregates the master bedroom and bath from the entertaining areas of the home. One way to make this private space perfect is to install a beauty bar. It’s a vanity station in the bedroom with a large mirror and chair so one can comfortably prep for the day without constantly standing.

* Fun space – Many retirees finally have the time to enjoy their hobbies to their full potential, and they’ll need to designate a space in their new home to accommodate the activity. Maybe they’re interested in physical fitness and need a place for equipment. Sometimes a craft room is required so the grandkids can come over and put their creativity to good use. Entertaining is an option, too, and having a separate room near the kitchen just for those planned gatherings might be exactly what is needed.

By efficiently utilizing living space that is specifically designed for their use, boomers can enjoy their retirement years in a home that is built to suit their new active lifestyles.

Must-have technology is making bathrooms healthier, safer, more enjoyable

(BPT) – Think home technology begins with your wireless, programmable thermostat and ends with the high-definition, 3-D, web-enabled flat-screen TV with surround sound? Think again – whole home technology means using leading-edge devices to improve life in every room of the house, including the bathroom.

From toilets that flush without being touched to waterproof TVs for the shower, the latest bathroom technology can make the room safer, cleaner, healthier and more enjoyable for everyone. Here is a handful of high-tech home improvements for one of the most-used rooms in any house:

Safer, healthier toilets

You don’t have to be a scientist to know the toilet is one of the most germ-filled locations in any house – even if you’re meticulous about keeping it clean. Touching spreads those germs from surface to surface. Just as touch-free faucets have improved hygiene in the kitchen, a touchless flush toilet can help make the bathroom a healthier and more hygienic place.

“The toilet trip lever is an obvious area of hygienic concern,” says Brian Hedlund, marketing manager of Kohler toilets and bidets. “Touchless takes that concern out of the equation, using new technology to provide a touchless way to control the flush.”

Kohler’s touchless sensor creates a precise electromagnetic field that accurately and reliably detects when users hold their hands above the toilet to trigger the flush. The company’s Cimarron toilet comes with touchless technology already installed, and virtually any single-flush toilet with a canister or flapper-type flush can be retrofitted to work with the Kohler Touchless Flush Kit. The sensor runs on four AA alkaline batteries, which power the sensor for six to 12 months, depending on the volume of use.

Also from Kohler, the Nightlight Toilet Seat illuminates the seat with two gentle, blue LED lights, one to help you see the toilet area and the other to light the bowl once the lid is opened. The seat provides enough light to enhance nighttime safety and eliminates the need to turn on brighter, overhead lights that could disrupt your ability to go back to sleep. Available on Kohler’s Cachet Q3 and Reveal Q3 toilet seats, the nightlight operates on a timer and powered by replaceable batteries.

The extras

Americans do much more in bathrooms than simply “take care of business.” The bath is also a hub for personal health, where we weigh ourselves and care for our mental health with relaxation. Extras like towel warmers, TVs and high-tech scales add a touch of luxury to the bathroom.

Towel warmers have been around for centuries; wealthy 19th century and early 20th century homes were often outfitted with warmers that used a home’s steam heat system. Today, towel warmers feature several improvements such as high-tech warming bars, detailed temperature controls with multiple settings, timers and energy-efficient features.

Most people weigh themselves in the bathroom, and technology has also touched the traditional bathroom scale. It’s easy to find visually appealing scales that serve multiple functions besides simply displaying your weight. From scales that also measure body mass index (BMI) to wireless-enabled models that allow you to track your weight loss, BMI and other health indicators with a smartphone app, bathroom scales are more user-friendly than ever.

Finally, technology has made it possible to shave, shower or relax in the tub while never missing your favorite TV show. You can opt for a waterproof television that you can watch while showering, or choose a medicine cabinet that features an LCD TV screen in a mirrored door.

Going home again: A great office is a key to success for new home-based workers

(BPT) – Whoever first said, “You can’t go home again,” probably wasn’t considering the 38 million home-based businesses in the United States, or the approximately 37 million households that have active home offices. More workers are plying their trade from home, as employers recognize the value of flexibility for their work force and more employees decide to enter the ranks of American entrepreneurship.

It’s not just small business owners or lucky full-time employees who are working from home, either; the Bureau of Labor Statistics says 24 percent of people employed outside the home work at home at least some of the time. If you’re poised to become home-based, here are some things to consider as you’re putting your home office in order:

Location is key

Without the need to fight rush-hour traffic during a twice-daily commute, you may think the location of your home office isn’t that important. Actually, it is. Where your office is located in your home can affect your productivity and even your personal life.

Choose a room that’s in your home’s heavy traffic lanes, and you could face frequent interruptions. Park your desk in the game room over the garage and you may feel isolated from the rest of the house. Try to stuff a desk in a corner of your bedroom and you’ll spend most of your life stuck in the same room – you may even feel less inclined to sleep there if you’re always working in your bedroom.

You’ll need to balance personal and professional priorities in order to decide which room in the house makes the most sense for your home office.

Good lighting sets the stage for success

The harshness of artificial lighting is a common complaint among people working in offices outside the home. A window in one’s office has long been a sign of prestige in cities across the country, and having abundant natural light in a home office is one of the many advantages of working from home. Natural lighting has a mood-boosting impact that’s been well-documented, making office workers feel happier, healthier and more productive. What’s more, use of natural light can help reduce reliance on artificial lighting and trim utility bills accordingly.

If the space you’ve chosen for your home office is short on windows and adding them isn’t practical, skylights can be a good alternative, not only for lighting but also to save valuable wall space for other uses. Adding Energy Star-qualified skylights, like those manufactured by VELUX America, can be as cost-effective as installing quality vertical windows, without creating the hassle of opening a wall. If you opt for a remote-controlled fresh air skylight, you can also use it to enhance the indoor air quality of your home office. Additionally, many of the features that make skylights appealing in other areas of the house – such as privacy in a bathroom or space conservation in a small bedroom – also make them a good choice for a home office.

Finally, skylights can be a good investment for your home-based business. Adding no-leak solar-powered fresh-air skylights and energy-efficient solar-powered blinds to your home office can qualify for a 30-percent federal tax credit on both products, including the installation costs. And from now until Aug. 15, there’s also a $200 cash rebate from VELUX on solar powered skylights. Visit www.veluxusa.com or energystar.gov to learn more about energy-efficient skylights.  Want to see how skylights would look in your home?  A free skylight planner app is available to show you, room by room, what’s possible with skylights.

Furnishings create a foundation

Considering how much time you’ll spend in your home office, it’s important to invest in furnishings that will be functional, comfortable, inspiring and in step with your lifestyle.

If you prefer to sit while you work on a computer, the comfort of your office chair will be key. Prefer to get in a bit of healthful exercise while you work? Consider an ergonomic desk that allows you to stand while you type. Many versions of standing desks also can be lowered for use while seated.

Desks should incorporate storage and easy access to electronic components. Office chairs should be comfortable and ergonomically correct. Be sure your furniture choices not only fit your needs, but the room’s, too. A huge desk may make you feel like a Wall Street CEO, but your enjoyment will evaporate if you don’t have space to walk around the desk in a small office. It’s important to keep office furniture appropriate to the scale of the room you’ll be working in.

The number of people working from home continues to grow, according to Census Bureau statistics. One study by a Chinese travel website found that working from home increased employee productivity by nearly 14 percent, according to the Harvard Business Review. Ensuring your home office is set up to inspire can help you achieve greater productivity and satisfaction as you work from home.

Millennial homeowners: Simple, affordable ways to personalize home decor

(BPT) – Every generation of homeowners has its design priorities. Baby boomers look for home design that will let them age in place, while generation X wants features that facilitate busy lifestyles. Millennials crave interior decor that meshes with their technology, blending energy efficiency, family-friendly features and plenty of personalization. Since many millennials are starting out in their personal and professional lives, affordability is also a priority.

It’s possible to achieve a personal look that accommodates all your requirements. Here are handful of tricks and tips that can help.

* Color your world. Paint is one of the easiest and most affordable ways to give your favorite interior spaces an instant facelift. Gray has become the must-have neutral, while pops of color add energy throughout any season. Place an accent color on a singular focal wall or add a border between the ceiling and the wall color for a subtle pop that adds timeless style and class.

* Look for products that return on your investment in multiple ways. Applause honeycomb shades from Hunter Douglas can be a smart choice for millennials. An affordable way to achieve custom window treatments (Applause shades are made to measure), they are also energy efficient. The honeycomb construction traps air in pockets within the shade, helping keep cool air inside during summer and warm air in during winter, and helping to improve a home’s overall energy efficiency. Available in a variety of colors and customizable to your window dimensions, the shades offer four operating options for ease of use. For young families, Applause shades have the extra bonus of cordless operation for enhanced child safety and a new fabric boasts antimicrobial fabric protection that resists the growth of bacteria, mold and mildew. Visit www.hunterdouglas.com to learn more.

* Repurpose furnishings. Whether it’s an heirloom china cabinet that’s been in your family for generations, a rocking chair from a secondhand store or that shabby but still-comfy sofa from your parents’ living room, repurposed furniture can add a personalized look to your decor at a fraction of the cost of new items. Inspect all the parts of a refurnished piece to ensure they’re in good repair; tighten screws, apply wood glue where needed and add a fresh finish or new upholstery. Personalizing a repurposed piece creates a unique look at little cost, and by reusing an older piece, you’re doing something for the environment, too.

* Don’t overlook the impact of lighting. Upgrading lighting is a cost-effective way to personalize the look of a room. There are a variety of fixtures to suit every decorating taste available now. Simply switching out an ordinary fixture in the breakfast nook, dining room or family room for a design that speaks to you can elevate a room’s personal feel. While you’re at it, feed your eco-friendly, energy-efficient craving by outfitting new lights with electricity-sipping CFLs or LEDs. Such bulbs produce the same level of light as incandescent bulbs, and they use about 80 percent less electricity. Plus, they can last eight years or longer.

* Make your own wall decorations. You don’t need to be an artist or even particularly crafty to create your own wall art, and nothing is more personal than something you’ve made yourself. Look online for wall art that appeals to your sense of style, then search for instructional videos and guides that can help you achieve the same look on your own. Whether you opt for hand-framed prints you created yourself, an arrangement of mirrors as an accent on one wall or creative treatments of your favorite family photos, wall art is an easy, cost-effective way to create a personal look in any room.

One simple home improvement cuts noise pollution while boosting energy savings

Whether it’s the neighbor’s lawnmower, low-flying aircraft, heavy traffic or loud music, noise pollution can hinder you from truly enjoying your home. Nowadays, a quiet place to relax and chill out can be increasingly difficult to find. Yet, a smart investment in the right materials can let you achieve both solace and silence in your home.

Noise pollution can noticeably contribute to issues such as cognitive impairment, language development problems, learning disabilities, mood disorders as well as social and behavioral issues, according to online medical resource, MedScape, While these conditions are more likely to occur in children, there is a chance that older residents can suffer due to noise pollution. Eliminating noise pollution can have a significant impact on motivation, education and overall mood.

The wrong kinds of noise pollution upgrades can often mean homeowners spend a lot more than necessary and get a lot less in return. Building experts note homeowners are more likely to invest in soundproofing materials for their theatre or media rooms rather than tackle the issue of noise pollution holistically.

Investing in heavy soundproofing drapes and double-glazed windows are a good start to minimizing external, airborne noises. But what about flanking noises? That is, those noises rumbling from piping and the water system within your home. One versatile option that addresses both airborne and flanking noise pollution is spray foam insulation.

Spray foam insulation, like that available from Icynene, is ideal for targeting noise pollution while providing a range of other benefits. Conforming to any space when applied, spray foam insulation forms a thick, sponge-like barrier that blocks the chaos of the outside world and dampens the flanking noises from your home’s pipes improving the quality of life and health of you and your family.

Installed by professionals, high performance spray foam insulation goes beyond just noise dampening. It fills every gap within the home’s walls and ceiling to stop air escaping as well as reduces the strain on your heating and cooling equipment. Spray foam insulation both insulates and air seals the entire building envelope letting homeowners cut their monthly heating and cooling bills by as much as 50 percent in some cases.

As a long-term solution, spray foam insulation helps maintain a comfortable temperature year-round while helping to control noise pollution. The buzzing of a lawnmower and the late night house party can be a thing of the past thanks to a well-insulated home. More information on how spray foam insulation can help you effectively minimize noise pollution is available at www.icynene.com.

Take a digital approach to your next home and bath remodel

Undergoing a home redesign usually starts strong with a concept – maybe a theme or a color, or even one decorating item that you love – but the project often can slow down or stall completely when it comes to researching and finding additional materials or products to complete the design.

Luckily, there are now many digital tools and accessories available, making it easier for homeowners to undertake – and finish – a bathroom or kitchen remodel themselves, or to research their ideas ahead of time, and share them with a professional to speed the process along. Here are some of the latest digital tools available to help you choose products, finesse your design or even plan the entire project.

* Online shopping – Many brands are now putting their products on sale through online retailers, which makes it easy for a homeowner to view the item using a laptop computer right in the space that’s being redesigned.

* Planning tools – It can be hard to envision a finished room, which is why many companies can provide you with online planning tools to help you plan layouts and colors and coordinate all elements digitally.

* Researching ideas – Going to a store and mentally processing all the fixture options for both bathrooms and kitchens can be overwhelming. Trying to take in all the information – for example, for toilets, the style of flush, the amount of water used in each flush and the added extras – can take hours, especially if you don’t have any ideas on what your preferences are. There are now free apps available that will allow you to access information in one location.

* Save your notes – Many homeowners build a folder with ideas, pictures, notes, layouts and contact information to keep everything all together in one place. In this digital age save your ideas through a shared, online resource such as Google Drive.

With these digital tools literally right at your fingertips, you can sit back, relax and plan your kitchen or bathroom redesign quickly and easily. And once that part of the project is finished, it will be an easy thing to get started on the actual redesign work. Before you know it, your project will be finished, and you’ll be admiring and enjoying your handiwork.

Modern technology rescues backyard pool-time fun

Technology  has made the world a very different place than it was just one, five or 10 years ago. Film cameras, handwritten letters and portable CD players, all have been replaced by newer, more efficient inventions.

These advancements have improved so many facets of our lives, it really is no surprise that the latest technological breakthroughs have also hit the back yard pool.

Pools have always provided their owners with a wonderful source of relaxation. Maintaining and cleaning the pool, however, also used to require real exertion and just plain hard work. Veteran pool owners remember hours spent trying to capture those elusive leaves with pool skimmers, or the sore back that comes from using pole vacuums and just the over-all poor performance of most suction cleaners.

Fortunately, technology has improved the pool-cleaning process just as smart phones and other innovations have improved communication and, well, almost everything.

Today, pool owners are increasingly opting for robotic pool cleaners, like the Aquabot, to handle the task of keeping their pools clean, making robotics  the fastest-growing category in the industry. So why are robotic pool cleaners so popular?

Here are a couple of reasons:

* They are affordable. While robotic pool cleaners are not completely new to the market, many pool owners had previously opted for pressure or suction cleaners because most robotic cleaners were just too expensive. Modern advances have helped bring the cost of these products down though, and robotic cleaners can now be purchased for as little as $299 for above-ground pools and just $399 to $799 for typical in-ground pools.

* Reduced chemical usage. Many technology advancements come in response to consumer demands for healthier products, and this has taken place in the pool industry as well.  The Aquabot robotic pool cleaner for example carries the strongest vacuum pumps in the industry, removing more dirt and grime which reduces the amount of chemicals owners need to add to their pool. This makes for a healthier swim for everyone.

* Easy to use. Smart phones are popular in large part because of their ease of use, and robotic pool cleaners now offer a simplicity all their own. To use a robotic pool cleaner, simply place the robot in the water, plug it in and press the button. The robot does the rest.

* Environmentally friendly. In addition to being healthy for the body, many consumers also want products that are good for the environment. Robotic pool cleaners are more energy efficient than standard cleaning methods. For example, the Aquabot’s cleaning cycle uses 40 percent less electricity and costs just 5 cents per cycle hour. That means big savings for both the environment and your wallet.  Robotic pool cleaners are self-contained.  That means no hoses or costly booster pumps associated with pressure or suction cleaners.

As with most technological advances, consumers who own pools are demanding products that improve efficiency and make life more enjoyable. For pool owners, robotic pool cleaners mean more time spent swimming in the pool and less time cleaning it. You can learn more about the Aquabot at www.facebook.com/aquabot.

Beat the heat and save some green with these warm weather energy saving ideas

There are plenty of reasons to be excited that winter is finally over. Among them: no more slick roads, heavy jackets, freezing temperatures or dry skin. Spring’s arrival also means an end to those expensive heating bills you paid all season. But just because warmer weather is here doesn’t mean your bills are gone. In fact, if your home isn’t as energy efficient as it could be, your summer cooling bills could be just as costly.

If you’d like to make a change, here’s how you can invest in your home to increase its value, make it more energy efficient, improve your comfort, and save money in the long run.

* Make sure your system is running properly. Any plan to improve energy efficiency in your home should start with a thorough review of your heating and cooling system. Sealing leaky ducts can improve your cooling efficiency by 20 percent. That means big savings on your monthly cooling bills.

* Invest in new windows. Replacing your current windows with new products like Mezzo Windows from Alside offers you the chance to meet 2015 ENERGY STAR requirements today. Mezzo’s dual-pane insulated glass helps prevent cool air from leaving your home and warm air from entering, making your home more energy efficient. Its narrow-line frame provides a larger glass area for unobstructed views and an extensive collection of color and grid options mean Mezzo fits most any architectural style.

* Replace outdated incandescent light bulbs in your home with ENERGY STAR qualified light bulbs. These bulbs have a longer shelf life and are 75 percent more energy efficient than traditional bulbs. Replacing every bulb in your home with an ENERGY STAR bulb will lead to big energy savings in the months and years ahead.

* Make sure your home’s envelope is secure. Your home’s envelope includes its outer walls, ceiling, windows and floors. Consider the benefits of insulated siding products. Prodigy Insulated Siding from Alside is up to 1.5 inches thick, making it an exceptional option to improve the R-value of your exterior walls which can help you save energy and money. In addition, the siding’s clean lines and wide array of rich colors offer your home a modern look that increases its curb appeal.

* Get audited. No one wants to be financially audited, but inviting an energy auditor to your home allows you to explore new energy-saving options. Your energy auditor will evaluate your home and offer you cost-effective measures to help you save energy and money. Expect to pay a small fee up front for the assessment, but you will easily recoup that money by acting on the information you receive.

Warmer weather doesn’t need to equal higher energy bills. Following these tips can help lower your energy expenses and improve the look of your home at the same time. To learn more about how new, low-maintenance windows and siding can increase your home’s energy efficiency and curb appeal, visit alside.com.

Bathroom organization styles that work smarter – not harder

Hairdryers, toothbrushes, combs, hair brushes and picks. Shaving utensils, makeup, styling products and perfumes. The collection of grooming and beauty tools cluttering the bathroom vanity can quickly overwhelm everything, making the space unusable for guests and creating difficulty in finding the tools you need.

The bathroom should be a functional room that works for you. It’s where you start and end your day, so you want the space to give you energy and focus, not throw you off your routine because you can’t find what you need.

This is the perfect time of year to get organized, so why not start in the bathroom? The first step is to consider the entire room space. Does the vanity, mirror or shelving unit provide the storage space and accessibility you need for all your grooming items? If not, it may be time to personalize your bathroom space to accommodate everyone who uses the room. Here are some ways to create a personalized and stylish bathroom:

* Separate grooming areas – If you share a bathroom with someone who rises at the same time as you in the morning, it can quickly get congested in the room. Choosing a vanity with two sinks and related storage space is one solution to create better space and prevent grooming tools from getting mixed up or lost.

* The right fit – When incorporating a new vanity into your bath, it’s often difficult to find the right fit in size, style and functionality. You want a vanity that holds all the extra supplies needed in the bathroom – extra shampoo, clean towels, toilet paper and tissues – so they’re available for residents and guests alike. Plus you want something that matches the decor you already have in the room. Kohler’s Tailored Vanity Collection provides several size options, configurations and wood finishes as well as top materials in a variety of shapes and colors to perfectly blend into your bathroom style.

* Smart storage – Drawers and shelves in the vanity provide a great way to keep all your grooming tools within reach, and they can still be hidden away so guests can use the bathroom without seeing all of your clutter. Kohler’s Tailored Vanity Collection allows you to customize the look and use of your vanity, making it fit with your unique style. You can design the storage space with trays and dividers to best work for you. This also applies to the adjustable shelves, roll-out drawers and optional built-in electric outlets for the interior.

Organization can be the key to a successful day. With all of these storage options in your bathroom, you’ll be able to find the grooming tool you need when you need it, so you can start the day off right.