A month ago the nation’s largest home-building company, Lennar, announced they would begin including Amazon’s “Alexa” smart speaker system as an integrated function in new homes they construct. In the United States alone there are reportedly at least 39 million privately owned smart speakers, and the growth seems likely to only continue. With an eye to the future, we decided to shine a light on a few other “smart” products that can help enhance your home.
- While the iconic heavy door-knocker of 19thcentury Victorian may hold its appeal, high-tech doorbells are an increasingly popular option.
- The Amazon-owned Ring Doorbell is the pace-setter for this rapidly growing industry, allowing for remote monitoring of your home via video, two-way talking functionality, and WiFi-connectivity to allow homeowners to keep tabs on their property no matter how far they roam.
- If you’d like to go elsewhere, the market is flush with alternate options. SkyBell’s ringer allows for free cloud storage of video, while the Zmodo Greet Smart model allows for easy installation using your previous doorbell’s hardware, and comes at a price over $100 under most of the notable options.
- Much has been said of the lamentations regarding the loss in popularity of the family dinner around the table. If your family is drawn to their phones when it’s time to get meals going, a smart refrigerator may be the trick to centering things around the kitchen and dining room again.
- The brands may be familiar but the appliances are all-new. GE, Kenmore, Samsung, and Whirlpool are just a few household names involved in the exciting world of smart appliances.
- The options are wide-ranging in functionality – from Alexa-connected Kenmore smart fridges to Samsung’s full home command center, you can control temperatures in the fridge and in your home, play music and videos, and even pull up recipes on-screen to help your tech-savvy family follow along step-by-step.
Smart Energy Monitors
- Most people like doing things that are energy-efficient, but when it’s financially challenging it’s tough to make that choice. The best products, then, are those that check both boxes.
- Energy monitors like those from Sense, CURB, and Neurio offer the ability to connect into your appliances and circuit board, monitoring energy usage from your smartphone.
- How often are you likely to check your appliances unless they suddenly break down? With these monitors, not only can you maintain appropriate energy usage, you can identify issues before they become disasters.
Hoping to transform your tired laundry room into a sparkling clean, efficiently working space, but without the major costs of a full remodel? By not changing the layout or adding square feet, you can bring costs down while still making meaningful changes to your space. Use this guide to help you decide what to prioritize and what to put on the back burner, and give your laundry room an update that works with your space — whether your budget is $100 or $10,000.
Laundry 1: Sharon Barrett Interiors, original photo on Houzz
If your budget is about $100: Clean, declutter and upgrade laundry baskets that have seen better days. It’s worth spending a little more for hampers that can stand up to heavy use.
Also think about which features would be most helpful to have, such as hampers on wheels, triple-sorter bins or stackable baskets that can tuck out of the way when you’re not using them.
Laundry 2: David Charlez Designs, original photo on Houzz
If your budget is about $300: Clean up, get hampers and then give the walls a fresh coat of paint. A cheerful color can make your laundry room feel brand-new without breaking the budget — especially if you’re willing to DIY.
If your budget is about $500: Get hampers, fresh paint and then a soft new rug. You’ll appreciate the dose of color as much as the softness underfoot. If moisture is a concern (for example, if your laundry room is in the basement), you may want to choose a sturdy indoor-outdoor rug.
Laundry 3: ACQUIRE, original photo on Houzz
If your budget is about $700: Get hampers, fresh paint and a new rug, and then swap out the lighting.
Ample lighting is important when you’re trying to check laundry for stains and read labels, so pay attention to the recommended wattage of any light fixture you are considering — anything less than 75 watts may not shed enough light (especially if it’s the sole light source in the room).
Laundry 4: CVI Design – Carly Visser, original photo on Houzz
If your budget is about $1,200: Tackle all the above, and then treat your space to some bonus storage and extras, like an ironing station, a drying rack or open shelves. If your laundry room is small, look for space-saving designs like folding drying racks, retractable clotheslines and wall-mounted ironing boards.
If your budget is about $3,500: What’s next? New appliances! A new washer and dryer can work more efficiently than older models, operate more quietly and get your clothes cleaner.
If you’re going from top-loading to front-loading machines, consider adding a countertop above to hold supplies and act as a surface for folding. Not in the market for a new set? Give your old machines a thorough cleaning to keep them running well (and smelling fresh).
Laundry 5: colorTHEORY Boston, original photo on Houzz
If your budget is about $5,000: If you have more room in the budget, think about replacing the laundry room sink and faucet. If you’re hoping to avoid additional installation costs, choose a new model that is the same size as the old one. If you don’t already have a sink in the laundry room, adding one will require more extensive help from a plumber, and costs will be significantly more.
Laundry 6: Dina Bandman Interiors, original photo on Houzz
If your budget is about $10,000: So you have the hampers, paint, rug, lighting, storage, appliances and sink. If you still have room in the budget, think about tackling a bigger project like installing a new tile floor or a pet-washing station. Your furry friend may not thank you but sure will look cute sitting in that tub.
Summer is here, which means vacations are on the mind, but as always the cost can feel prohibitive. As folks take less and less time off work, people shortening their vacations, staying closer to home, or going nowhere at all for “staycations”. Another way to save money, while still getting away, is to leverage your own home for a home exchange.
A home exchange—often called “house-swapping”—is a money-smart vacation idea that’s been around for a long time. The concept is more popular than ever, with home-sharing plans like AirBnB becoming ubiquitous, but a unique one-to-one swap can be an even more affordable option.
Why a home exchange? Since accommodations are usually the priciest part of a vacation, a home exchange saves money, allowing travelers to take longer vacations and perhaps splurge a bit on dining, tours, or shopping. Larger families appreciate how homes meet their needs for space, meals, and a good night’s sleep. And, home-swappers often say they enjoy “living like the locals,” especially when traveling internationally.
How it works. The basic idea of a home exchange is that two families agree to live in each other’s home (usually at the same time) at no cost—it’s considered an even trade. Exchangers find one another via home exchange website that provides detailed listings of available homes. Exchanges take place within the United States or internationally, and the length of stay is whatever the parties agree upon. Exchangers typically do not meet in person but get acquainted via phone calls and emails before the exchange happens. Details, including pets, the use of a car, and cleaning are all agreed upon ahead of time, usually in a written contract provided by the website.
What makes a house desirable? You might be surprised! As a general rule, home exchangers are looking for location, location, location. They want to explore attractions in your area, attend an event, or visit family. A beachfront house in California is highly desirable, as is a condo in an exciting city—and even a home in the suburbs will appeal to the right travelers. Because swappers are primarily looking for a convenient jumping-off point for their adventures, your home’s age, floor plan, and furnishings don’t matter too much, as long as it’s clean, comfortable, and accommodating.
Vacation homes are ideal. Whether it’s a rustic cottage on a secluded fishing lake or a condo at a popular ski area, a second home is ideal for exchanges. Logistically, you don’t have to vacate your primary residence, and you have more flexibility as to when the swap can happen. For this reason, many retirees—who often own second homes and enjoy freer schedules—find home exchanges especially appealing.
First steps. If you’re intrigued, start by exploring a few websites; you can view a lot of information for free. Home exchange websites typically charge an annual membership fee of $50 to $100 to list your home. If you decide to join a service, you’ll provide several photos and a detailed description of your home. You’ll also post your desired destination(s) and travel dates, and you’ll be able to peruse the homes that meet your criteria. It’s common to trade information with several homeowners before finding just the right match, and the process may take several months.
Focus on the basics. Once you’ve agreed to an exchange and are preparing your home for guests, think about what makes a hotel room enjoyable. A clean, clutter-free home is universally appealing, and comfortable mattresses and attractive bedding are a must. Your kitchen should be well organized, and internet access is a big plus. Your guests know they’re staying in someone’s home, so don’t worry about scuffed baseboards and well-worn furniture. Likewise, don’t expect five-star accommodations when you step into your host’s home.
Is a home exchange right for you? If the very thought of others living in your home and sleeping in your bed—or you in theirs—makes your palms go clammy, an exchange is probably not for you. But many travelers are hooked!
In “Staying Put,” architect and writer Duo Dickinson has assembled a terrific and practical guide to help us make real improvements to our homes. Dickinson, an advocate of well-designed and affordable homes for all, has specialized in residential design for more than three decades.
This is not your typical architect’s book about design. There’s no obscure language nor design-for-design’s-sake ideas. It is a practical, down-to-earth guide that walks anyone through the rational process of how to remodel your house to get the home you want, from how to think about your house and overcoming hurdles to a list of “Duo’s Do’s and Don’ts” for the homeowner. Along the way, there’s plenty of nice before-and-after photos to help explain the points. Do read the book. You’ll be glad you did.
The Taunton Press Inc, original photo on Houzz
The cover says it all. The ubiquitous photo of a gorgeous, award-winning home that’s beyond most of us is replaced with images of a saw, cup of morning joe and a to-do list.
Are you staying put yourself? Read on for 8 of Dickinson’s suggestions.
Mick Hales, original photo on Houzz
Consider the compass points. The tips and illustrated examples are wonderfully straightforward. For example, we see a house that gets overheated, the siding degrades and the front door bakes in the sun because it all faces south.
Dickinson’s common-sense advice: Rework the front of the house with a new wide porch that shades the front door and some smaller, yet well-sized windows to create a lot more curb appeal while reducing maintenance and energy consumption. It’s a triple win: more beauty and comfort with less cost.
Avoid gutters. Statements such as “gutters and leaders are devout to be avoided” may sound like heresy to many but certainly are the truth. Proving his point, Dickinson illustrates how a properly-built roof overhang can shed all the water it must without the complications, such as ice dams, caused by gutters.
Embrace small moves. Dickinson provides a wealth of simple solutions illustrated with before-and-after photos. He shows how to use small moves for big dividends, such as taking out a wall between a kitchen and a hallway to make room for more kitchen storage.
Mick Hales, original photo on Houzz
Enhance curb appeal. The book offers solutions to common problems with a particular style, such as how to improve and enhance an entrance into a split-level home.
Open up to the outside. Dickinson provides some excellent examples of how we can use modern windows and doors to strengthen the connection between inside and outside. Our homes, says Dickinson, no longer need be “later-day caves.”
Find your home. Learning more about the style of the house you have will help you avoid obstacles in remodeling and recognize the best opportunities for improving your particular home.
Mick Hales, original photo on Houzz
Open up the inside. Snippets of advice sprinkled throughout the book are like refreshing raindrops that clear the cobwebs away. One such snippet: “If you walk through a room to get to a room, something is wrong.” You know — it’s when that new great room gets added to a modest house, and the result is some kind of dyslexic creature that’s really two houses rather than one.
So rather than even building an addition, Dickinson suggests you make the most of what you already have. In this example, widening the opening between rooms strengthens this room’s connection with the rest of the home, increasing its utility and spaciousness.
The Taunton Press Inc, original photo on Houzz
Work with what you’ve got (before): Keeping the kitchen size the same while vaulting the ceiling dramatically increases the overall spaciousness of the room, as you’ll see in the next photo.
Mick Hales, original photo on Houzz
Work with what you’ve got (after): Walls, doors, appliances and even the skylight and kitchen sink were all left where they were. This all avoided costly plumbing, electrical and mechanical work and rework.
The Taunton Press Inc, original photo on Houzz
Working with what you’ve got (plans): Dickinson has included before-and-after floor plans for many of the examples. These plans help provide that much more context, allowing the reader to better understand what they may be able to do with the home they already have.
The 4thof July is a day of patriotism, revelry, and family. It gives friends and families an opportunity to gather for a day of relaxation, celebration, and of course, food! There’s nothing quite as quintessentially “summer” as a 4thof July cookout. With that in mind, we decided to look at a few ways to best set up this tastiest of traditions.
The Traveling Picnic
- A classic setup. With burgers and brats on the grill, folks can come and go as they please with paper or plastic plates to limit the damage.
- For prep work, this is the least intensive option. The more expansive your outdoor space, the better, but even small touches can help promote positive social interactions.
- Consider ways to accentuate your yard with spaces for folks to set down their food. The opportunity to stand and chat with a hand free (or a hand with a drink) puts everyone at ease.
The Extended Table
- Indoors or outdoors, if your family loves to cook together, then everyone will want to take a seat and eat together.
- The hassle of cobbling together a make-shift space for your brood is a stress not worth your time. If you’re short on storage space (or don’t think it’ll get use otherwise), foldup tables are easily available for rental from most party stores.
- It’s the 4thof July, so go all-out with decorations! There’s no need to be bashful – a stylishly loud tablecloth can be a talking point all evening!
The Couple’s Night
- Not everyone has the opportunity to get together with their family for the 4th, but the evening can be special nonetheless.
- If you and your significant other are accustomed to a big bash, the best pathway to enjoying your alternative 4this aiming for a completely new experience.
- A few well-placed candles, particularly with red-white-and-blue holders, can set the mood pleasantly, and make a well-cooked meal for two on the deck a new tradition.
Are you thinking about replacing your kitchen or bathroom countertops? The choices are endless; tile, granite, soapstone, wood, or maybe marble? White marble often gets a bad rap because it’s a more porous metamorphic stone than most (which means it’s prone to stains and scratches), but we beg to differ, and here’s why.
White marble is as timeless as it is modern. Adding white marble to your kitchen or bathrooms is like bringing home flowers for your significant other; always a good idea. It looks great on kitchen counters, but also just about anywhere in your bathrooms, from the floor to the shower walls. Adding white marble countertops to a dressing vanity in bedrooms is also a great way to incorporate it throughout your house.
After you’ve made the decision to install white marble into your home, you’ll need to decide on a finish. Honing gives a matte finish, whereas polishing creates a shiny, reflective surface. If you want to reduce etching, choose a honed finish instead of a polish. If you don’t mind some added etching, then polished white marble is as stunning as it sounds.
How do you keep your marble happy? Make sure to apply a seal prior to using it. To reduce staining, wipe away spills immediately, and only use a neutral detergent to clean your marble. These simple things will keep your white marble in shipshape condition.
When it comes to your marble, it’s more like you than you think. Marble goes through good times and bad times and some scars fade better than others. It will never be perfect, but in the end, we think you’ll love it—imperfections and all.
Check out white marble looks we love on Pinterest.
A delightfully warm spring in many parts of the Western U.S. has many folks brushing off their summer clothing early. While this is exciting for all who love the outdoors, public spaces like parks and beaches may be overcrowded. What better time, then, to focus on ways to maximize the space you have in your own home. There’s no one ideal way to design or set up your deck, but we’ve put together a few of our favorite ideas to help inspire your next redesign.
Credit: H. Camille Smith / HGTV
- Especially if your square footage is limited, tiering your deck into multiple levels is a great way to incorporate extra outdoor space into your home.
- By separating your deck into multiple levels, even slightly, you can create a cozy sense of separation between spaces.
- Give yourself options for privacy. Depending on your property, the base level of your deck may be below your fence-line. If you have a view you’d like to enjoy with your barbecue, consider a second tier.
- A simple way to save space and hassle is to build in your seating spaces during your deck’s construction.
- It’s important to consider what you will predominantly be doing on your deck. Lounging while reading? A corner bench is a great fit and can be outfitted comfortably. Potlucks and cookouts? Consider higher benches or fences with wide tops for easy plate placement.
- Consider your environment. If your deck will weather rain, sand, or wind consistently, don’t write off surfaces like brick and concrete, which can be framed as appealingly as wood or other stone.
- As the sun fades, your deck’s utility can shine or fade with it. Including discreet lighting within the construction of your deck is a small step that can pay huge dividends.
- Increasingly popular low-voltage systems have made a well-lit backyard and deck drastically more affordable.
- Depending on your location, solar powered lighting is a worthwhile investment that can help accentuate your stairs, fences, and other outdoor decorations.
Most of us tend to think of air pollution as something that occurs outdoors where car exhaust and factory fumes proliferate, but there’s such a thing as indoor air pollution, too. Since the 1950s, the number of synthetic chemicals used in products for the home has increased drastically, while at the same time, homes have become much tighter and better insulated. As a result, the EPA estimates that indoor pollutants today are anywhere from five to 70 times higher than pollutants in outside air.
Luckily, there are many ways to reduce indoor air pollution. We all know that buying organic and natural home materials and cleaning supplies can improve the air quality in our homes, but there are several other measures you can take as well.
How pollutants get into our homes
Potentially toxic ingredients are found in many materials throughout the home, and they leach out into the air as Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs. If you open a can of paint, you can probably smell those VOCs. The “new car smell” is another example of this. The smell seems to dissipate after a while, but VOCs can actually “off-gas” for a long time, even after a noticeable smell is gone.
We all know to use paint and glue in a well-ventilated room, but there are many other materials that don’t come with that warning. For instance, there are chemicals, such as formaldehyde, in the resin used to make most cabinets and plywood particle board. It’s also in wall paneling and closet shelves, and in certain wood finishes used on cabinets and furniture. The problems aren’t just with wood, either. Fabrics—everything from draperies to upholstery, bedding, and carpets—are a potent source of VOCs.
The good news about VOCs is that they do dissipate with time. For that reason, the highest levels of VOCs are usually found in new homes or remodels. If you are concerned about VOCs, there are several products you can buy that are either low- or no-VOC. You can also have your home professionally tested.
How to reduce VOCs in your home
Make smart choices in building materials.
- For floors, use tile or solid wood—hardwood, bamboo, or cork – instead of composites.
- Instead of using pressed particle board or indoor plywood, choose solid wood or outdoor-quality plywood that uses a less toxic form of formaldehyde.
- Choose low-VOC or VOC-free paints and finishes.
Purify the air that’s there.
- Make sure your rooms have adequate ventilation, and air out newly renovated or refurnished areas for at least a week, if possible.
- Clean ductwork and furnace filters regularly.
- Install air cleaners if needed.
- Use only environmentally responsible cleaning chemicals.
- Plants can help clean the air: good nonpoisonous options include bamboo palm, lady palm, parlor palm, and moth orchids.
- Air out freshly dry-cleaned clothes or choose a “green” cleaner.
Fight the carpet demons.
- Choose “Green Label” carpeting or a natural fiber such as wool or sisal.
- Use nails instead of glue to secure carpet.
- Install carpet LAST after completing painting projects, wall coverings, and other high-VOC processes.
- Air out newly carpeted areas before using.
- Use a HEPA vacuum or a central vac system that vents outdoors.
- Clean up water leaks fast.
- Use dehumidifiers, if necessary, to keep humidity below 60 percent.
- Don’t carpet rooms that stay damp.
- Insulate pipes, crawl spaces, and windows to eliminate condensation.
- Kill mold before it gets a grip with one-half cup of bleach per gallon of water.
We hope this information is helpful. If you would like to learn more about VOCs and indoor air quality, please visit http://www.epa.gov/iaq/.
Moving is stressful, whether it’s across town or cross-country. Once you’ve closed on your house, the reality of packing, moving, and setting up a new home can become overwhelming. While no list can make a move “stress-free”, planning ahead and staying organized can help make your move a little smoother. Here is our list of tips:
· Once you know your prospective move date set up a quick timeline to make sure you can get all the important tasks done and ready in time for your move.
· Consider how much stuff you have by doing a home inventory. This can help you decide whether you need to hire movers to help you or if you will be managing your move on your own. Many moving companies supply inventory lists to help you assess the size of truck you will need. You can use your list as double duty for insurance purposes later.
· As soon as you decide how you will be moving, make your reservations. In general, moving companies and truck rental services are over-booked at the beginning and very end of the month. If you are planning on hiring a moving company, contact a few in your area for a price quote. To find companies ask your real estate agent, family, or friends, and consult online reviews. It is also a good idea to request a quote and compare companies.
Preparing for your move:
· Moving is a great opportunity to get rid of clutter, junk, or outdated items. Set aside some time to sort through your closets, storage spaces, files, drawers, and more. Go through cluttered areas and organize items by “keepers”, “give-aways” and “garbage”. You will have less to pack and an opportunity to update after you move. Contact a local nonprofit organization for your donations; some will arrange to pick up larger donations like furniture. If you have items of value, eBay or Craigslist are good options.
· Changing your address is one of the more tedious tasks in the moving process. You will need to change your address with the United States Post Office. You can find the online form here.
· You will also need to change your address with each account you have. Here is a list to get you started:
· Utilities (Electric, Water/Sewage, Oil/Gas)
· Cable/ Telephone
· Cell phone service
· Credit Cards
· Magazine subscriptions
· Insurance companies (auto, home/renters, health, dental, vision, etc.)
· Other personal services
Let the packing begin:
· Before you start packing, it may help to visualize where everything you have will go. Perhaps furniture will fit better in a different room? Consider the floor plan of your new home and figure out what will go where. This will aid in packing and labeling as you box everything up.
· Use a tool like floorplanner.com to plan where furniture and items will go.
· When it comes to packing you have some options. You can work with a service that provides reusable boxes for moving or you can reuse or purchase cardboard boxes. Make sure you have enough boxes, packing tape, dark markers, and packing paper.
· Pack rooms according to your floor plan. Label boxes with contents and room. This will make it easier to unpack your home, knowing where everything is going.
· Real Simple magazine has some great tips on packing for your move.
· If you have to disassemble any of your furniture, make sure you keep all the parts and directions together.
· Make sure you set aside your necessities for the day you move. Being tired and unable to take a shower or make your bed can be hard at the end of a long moving day. Here are some ideas of what you may like to pack in your “day-of-move” boxes.
· Clean linens for the beds, pillows and blankets
· Clean towels
· Shower curtain, liner and hooks
· Toiletries, hand soap, toothbrush, etc.
· Disposable utensils, cups, napkins, etc
· Rolls of toilet paper
· Snacks and water
· Change of clothes
· Tools for reassembling furniture, installing hardware, and hanging photos
Making your move
· Come up with a game plan with your family, so everyone has a role and a part to play.
· Once the house is empty, do a once over on your old place to make sure it is clean for the next owners/occupants. Here is a useful checklist for cleaning.
Warming your new home
· Once you have settled into your new home, warm it up by inviting friends and family over to celebrate.
· Announce your move to far-away friends and family through moving announcements to make sure you stay on the holiday card mailing list.