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Rent vs. own: Which is right for you?

(BPT) - If you’re thinking of buying your first home, you’ve probably wrestled with the decision to rent or own your home — and for good reason.

Owning a home is a big commitment. With it comes a lot of responsibility and a long-term financial relationship.

But which is right for you? To answer that, let’s lean into the facts.

The improving housing market

Good news! Since the depths of the recession, the housing market has made a heroic comeback. That can be attributed to a number of factors, including a drop in unemployment and a stronger economy.

But as the housing market has recovered, it has experienced some growing pains. With a sharp increase in demand, housing supplies are being strained. This means, among other things, that prices are going up.

For families and individuals still recovering financially, finding affordable housing options can be difficult. This applies to home sales and rentals.

Making the decision

With rental and sales markets heading toward record highs, the decision falls back to what is best for you. Specifically, what is financially feasible.

Let’s look at the basic numbers. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median gross rent paid from 2012 to 2016 was $949 monthly. Compare that with the median selected monthly owner costs with a mortgage, which was $1,491 over the same time period.

Then there are utilities. The median monthly electricity cost for renters in 2015 was $82, with owners paying $117. For piped gas, the median amount renters pay monthly is $42, while owners pay $58.

For renters, it is wise to carry renter’s insurance. Some landlords will also charge maintenance and other fees. Utility costs will also vary depending on the quality of the structure and materials used as well as size of the rental space.

Homeowners will pay property taxes, insurance and an estimated $500 annually for routine maintenance, according to the Census Bureau.

The benefits of homeownership

At a glance, it may seem that renting is the lower cost option. But there are certain benefits to homeownership that may offset the additional regular costs. According to the Tax Policy Center, the primary benefit to owning a home is imputed rental income. Simply put, making a monthly payment on a home that you own is like paying rent to yourself.

While that money is not taxed, it comes with another benefit — potential tax deductions. When you file your federal taxes, you may be able to deduct a portion of the mortgage interest you pay. Talk to a tax professional for more information on the expenses you can deduct and the limits for those deductions.

Beyond the numbers

Homeownership provides a variety of benefits beyond the numbers. For many people, a home is the largest investment they will ever make. The upgrades, work and care put into the home that you own can add value to your investment. It also adds a sense of pride knowing that it is yours.

“Having a place to call your own, a place to return to at the end of the day, makes life better,” said Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance, Inc. President Eric Hamilton. “You can see it from the moment they make the decision — that sense of pride. It’s a life-changing event and a memory that will last a lifetime.”

Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance, Inc., 500 Alcoa Trail, Maryville, TN 37804, 865-380-3000, NMLS #1561, (http://www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org/), AZ Lic. #BK-0902616, Loans made or arranged pursuant to a California Finance Lenders Law license, GA Residential Mortgage (Lic. #6911), Illinois Residential Mortgage Licensee, Licensed by the NH Banking Department, MT Lic. #1561, Licensed by PA Dept. of Banking.



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Stuck inside? Easy tips to freshen up your...

(BPT) - Winter weather means more time living indoors — working, playing, relaxing and staying warm. It's important to keep your home fresh by staying ahead of the continual buildup of dirt, dust and allergens. The following are some key areas to tackle for a comfortable and efficient home.

Wash windows

Washing away dirt and water marks from your windows and screens gives you a clear view of the outdoors and lets in more natural light. It will also make your home feel lighter and brighter, keeping cabin fever at bay. And to help maintain a controlled climate inside the home, prevent air from leaking in or escaping by using weatherstripping or caulk around your windows. You’ll stay cozy inside and save money on your energy bill.

Check and replace your vacuum bag, filter and belt

A full vacuum bag, clogged filter or broken belt can hinder your vacuum’s effectiveness, leaving dirt, dust and allergens behind. Replacing your vacuum bags every 1-2 months, filters every 3-6 months and belts once per year is recommended to help your vacuum achieve peak performance. Even more, a Filtrete HEPA vacuum filter will help trap particles 75 times smaller than a human hair, including 99.97 percent of dust mite debris, animal dander, molds and pollen.

Don’t forget to look up

After tackling floors, dust ceiling fans and light fixtures. These hard-to-reach and hard-to-see places can harbor dust. And while you’re up there, change the direction of your ceiling fans to counterclockwise for the winter. This will keep air moving, but circulate warm air instead of cooling the room down.

Clean around your HVAC

With the heater on, be sure to clear the area around your HVAC unit to make sure there is nothing blocking the flow of air. Next, remember to swap out that filter for maximum effectiveness and change your filter every 90 days.

Turn on the humidifier

Increasing the humidity in your home during the cooler months adds moisture to your air and living space. This raises the “heat index,” making 68 degrees feel more like 76 degrees. If your house has low humidity, you may notice chapped lips, dry skin or a dry, sore throat. Be sure to maintain a relative humidity in the home between 20 and 40 percent. As the temperature outside drops, lower this percentage so condensation does not form on the windows.

Add extra insulation to all areas of your home

Adding insulation to your home reduces energy usage and increases comfort. If your home uses less than 12 inches of insulation, chances are heat is escaping. Add insulation in the attic to prevent warm air from escaping. Also consider adding insulation in crawl spaces, under floors and against basement walls to stop the transfer of cold through the house.

Take back your clean, fresh home today

Tackling each of these simple projects will help you take on winter with a fresh, cozy home you and your family can enjoy. For more information, visit www.filtretevac.com.



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Creating a dream home with cypress

(BPT) - Transforming the unremarkable into the extraordinary need not be an impossible task. More and more homeowners are finding that lavish looks are both attainable and affordable. Their imaginative design professionals are making it happen, using cypress to create their clients’ dream homes.

“Wood is a classic and timeless building material,” says Stephen Logue of the Southern Cypress Manufacturers Association. “And many people are discovering that the inherent beauty of cypress, a species so often chosen for outdoor applications, adds a luxurious look to indoor living spaces, for anything from walls and ceilings, to exposed beams and so much more.”

Transforming the ordinary

When a coat of paint just won’t do, think paneling. For Christopher Rose, an architect based in Johns Island, South Carolina, solid wood paneling provides a sense of warmth and richness to a room. But not just any wood.

“I particularly like working with cypress,” says Rose. “It has a wonderful grain pattern that offers a relaxed, yet elegant look. Vertical beadboard or tongue-and-groove patterns are popular options that add perceived height to a room. And more recently, horizontal shiplap paneling and accent walls have been requested by many clients.”

Reaching new heights

Looking to add dimension and visual interest to otherwise flat, dull ceilings? Architect Geoff Chick of Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, says it’s not enough to simply add crown molding. Too basic!

“Owners today are looking to celebrate their ceilings with more creative design solutions and materials,” Chick says. “In large rooms where I have tall ceilings to work with, I typically use a coffered ceiling. Filling in the coffers with wood helps to warm up a room and add another layer of detail. Cypress with a square groove is my favorite wood to use for ceiling treatments. I just love how it looks, especially when combined with cypress beams.”

Adding the finishing touch

When selecting a finish for his interior cypress woodwork, Chick prefers stains. “It’s a shame to cover cypress with paint,” Chick says. “To help bring out its grain pattern, I like finishing it with a matte stain or pickled finish. Some rooms require a lighter finish than others, and it can be a challenge to coordinate with flooring. But from my experience with cypress, it’s all worth it when it comes together.”

And remember, much like wood cabinets and floors, solid cypress paneling and ceilings can be refinished. If you’re envisioning a fresh look down the road, swap neutral tones for bold colors, or sand the wood and apply a transparent stain to let cypress’s natural beauty speak for itself.

Browse the Photo Gallery at www.CypressInfo.org and see how cypress transforms the unremarkable to the extraordinary. It’s time to make your dream home a reality.



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Smart home update 2018: New products that...

(BPT) - The artificial intelligence that’s already taking the world by storm is ramping up even more in 2018, enabling a number of innovative new smart home tools that can make your life easier, more comfortable or just more fun.

Throughout the year, consumers worldwide are expected to spend $102 billion on hardware, services and installation related to smart home systems, an amount expected to ramp up to $157 billion by 2022. The number of connected things installed in smart cities by next year? Nearly 1.1 billion, predicts Statista. Increasingly, people will enjoy the convenience of being able to monitor and control their surroundings with a simple touch or a few words of direction. In fact, a 2017 study found 24 percent of consumers already own a voice-controlled device and another 20 percent plan to purchase one in the next year.

“Pretty much anything can be made smart these days,” notes Bernard Marr in Forbes. “For our homes, there are obvious smart products like TVs and less obvious ones, like yoga mats that track your Downward Dog. We can carry out a whole range of tasks on the move simply by touching a screen.”

Some of the hottest smart home products that have recently debuted:

* LG’s entire line of OLED TVs is now AI enabled. They also let you speak right into the remote control so with one word, you can check weather reports, search for content from over-the-air or streaming sources (including Netflix, Amazon, Hulu or YouTube), order items through Google or even control other IoT devices within your network. Even better, LG Electronics has invented a next-generation OLED TV that combines the most powerful A9 Intelligent Processor created with Atmos audio technology. The result? The LG SIGNATURE OLED TV W8 offers stunningly clear and detailed pictures, cinema-quality sound and ultra-fast response times.

* Seeking the smartest refrigerator on the market? The Wi-Fi-enabled LG ThinQ InstaView is the first to offer built-in Amazon Alexa that responds to your spoken directions by creating to-do lists and grocery lists, ordering the groceries themselves, controlling your refrigerator settings, playing the music of your choice and otherwise stepping up to make your life easier. A convenient touchscreen panel lets you instantaneously peruse the weather, recipes, shopping sites or the contents of your fridge — without losing energy by opening the door.

* Hands-free speakers with voice-activated assistants such as Google Home and Amazon Echo are helping tens of millions of people worldwide efficiently manage their lives by interacting on command with everything from home appliances to entertainment systems to information sources to online shopping venues.

* What’s for dinner? Recipe apps like SideChef and Innit already deliver fast and intelligent answers to that age-old question, giving everything needed to plan and prepare the next meal. Voice-controlled AI takes this to the next level. Innit is now connected to some models of smart ovens, and for SideChef that feature is coming online in 2018. What does that mean for home chefs? When they speak to the oven to start heating, it will already know those roasted veggies need 25 minutes in a 425-degree oven.

* In its latest version, the Bluetooth music headset that may already be a staple of your life allows you to access the Google Assistant by voice so you can instantly access a range of functions beyond just music. The LG TONE PLATINUM SE lets you request and receive notifications and answers to questions, send text or audio messages and more while you’re on the go.

Thanks to the continual evolution of technology, we can start the new year with fun new products aimed at making our lives more efficient, organized and enjoyable. And that pattern should only continue into the future.

“Already, many of us wake up in our ‘smart beds’ to a Bluetooth-connected alarm clock that communicates with our WiFi-enabled speakers,” notes marketing consultant A.J. Agrawal in Entrepreneur. “Soon, all our devices — microwaves, washing machines and even bird feeders — will be connected to the web. With geospatial data from all of our devices, tech-savvy companies will be able to optimize and automate systems, eradicating inefficiencies caused by human error.”



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New year, new you. Be your best, most...

(BPT) - It's a new year, the time people traditionally take a look at what's working in their lives and what could be kicked up a notch. If you could use more productivity and efficiency in your life, you're not alone. Sometimes, it's all anyone can do to make it through the day unscathed, let alone slay every item on their to-do list.

The good news? There's help out there. Here are some tips, tactics and technology to help you wrangle productivity and efficiency back into your life at work and at home this year.

Eat that frog

If procrastination bedevils you, take a page from Mark Twain. He famously said if you eat a live frog first thing in the morning, you can go about the rest of your day knowing the worst is behind you. Author Brian Tracy brings that philosophy into the workplace, coaching people to "eat that frog," or, get your most unpleasant or challenging task — the thing you're most likely to put off — done first. It's a powerful way to cut down on procrastination, accomplish more and slay your to-do list every day.

Get smart at home

Artificial intelligence is going to be big in 2018, with everything from chatbots helping you with your banking questions to devices designed to make your home smarter and life easier. LG Electronics has just released its AI device, the LG ThinQ Speaker, which comes with Google Assistant built in and features improved vocal clarity thanks to technology from Meridian Audio, the maker of high-performance audio solutions. With a voice-activated interface it serves as a smart home hub for your entertainment needs and for LG's smart home appliances. Another LG device that plays well with the Google Assistant is the TONE Platinum SE, a Bluetooth headset that has a button for accessing the Google Assistant in a snap. It allows you to have a more natural conversation with it instead of always having to prompt everything with "Hey Google."

YNAB

Struggling with your finances? Check out You Need A Budget. It's an online program that helps users take control of their spending and save money with the goal of getting out of the living-paycheck-to-paycheck snare. On average, YNAB helps users save $600 by the second month and $6,000 the first year.

A dry cleaner in your closet

If you have ever scowled into your closet realizing you have nothing clean or wrinkle-free to wear to the office, the LG Styler from LG Electronics is for you. It looks like a closet of the future, but it's a steam cleaner and wrinkle reducer that uses just water to get the job done. Hang your clothes inside, close the door and boom, they come out clean, fresh and lovely.

Keep your resolutions

Setting goals for 2018? There's an app for that. It's called Strides, and it tracks any goal or habit you'd like to incorporate into your life. Weight loss, exercise, getting up early, you name it, Strides can track your progress and let you know how you're doing.

Wrestle laundry into submission

If your family's mountain of laundry eats up your weekends, check out the LG TWINWash. It takes the pain out of laundry day. It features the LG SideKick, a pedestal washer (an industry-first innovation) that can tackle smaller loads, delicates and intimates. You can run both the SideKick and the main washer at the same time, and it's also Wi-Fi enabled so you can check the status of your laundry from anywhere using your smartphone.

Using tips, tactics and technology, you can be your best, most productive, efficient self in 2018, giving you more time to enjoy everything the new year has to offer.



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Common tax mistakes to avoid in 2018

(BPT) - Life changes — getting married, having a baby, buying or selling a home, sending a child off to college or retiring — often come with changes to your tax situation. Overlooking these changes when filing your taxes can lead taxpayers to make mistakes that leave money on the table, potentially impacting their refund at a time when the average refund is about $2,800. Here is a list of common tax mistakes to avoid in the 2018 filing season to help ensure you don’t miss any deductions or credits that you deserve.

Using the correct filing status

One of the most common mistakes taxpayers make is selecting the wrong filing status. A taxpayer’s filing status can affect which credits and deductions they’re eligible for, the value of their standard deduction and their tax bracket. One situation that can make choosing a filing status difficult is when more than one filing status seems to fit. For example, if a taxpayer with children is in the process of getting a divorce, they may not be sure if they should file as married filing jointly or married filing separately or, in some instances, whether they qualify to file as head of household. In this case, the taxpayers should run the numbers to see if filing jointly or separately is more to their advantage rather than guessing.

In addition, common clerical errors such as mixing up names, forgetting to include information reported on your W-2, 1099 or other forms, or even making mathematical errors can also affect your tax benefits.

Commonly overlooked credits and deductions

Most taxpayers file their taxes using the standard deduction, but you may be eligible for a variety of itemized deductions that could possibly save you more. Also, you may be eligible for “above-the-line” deductions and tax credits, none of which require you to itemize. And it’s important to note that the newly passed tax reform generally does not impact these credits or deductions until you file your 2018 tax return in 2019.

Earned Income Tax Credit for lower-income workers:

Twenty percent of eligible taxpayers, particularly lower-income workers, do not claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Depending on their income and the number of children they have, these taxpayers may be eligible for an EITC of $503 to $6,242. Since eligibility can fluctuate based on financial, marital and parental status, taxpayers can be ineligible one year and eligible the next.

Under the PATH Act, taxpayers who claim the EITC and who file early will have their refunds delayed until mid-February. Despite the delay, taxpayers should file as they normally would to get their refund as soon as possible.

Education credits:

Depending on your academic program, what year the student is in, income and other restrictions, there are federal tax credits that can help offset the costs of higher education for yourself or your dependents. To qualify, you must pay for post-secondary tuition and fees for yourself, your spouse or your dependent. Depending on the criteria, a student may use the American Opportunity Credit of up to $2,500 or the Lifetime Learning Credit of up to $2,000.

Itemizing deductions:

Itemizing can save taxpayers hundreds of dollars, as only one third of taxpayers itemize but millions more should — especially homeowners. Owning a home is often the key that unlocks itemization, but some taxpayers with high state taxes and charitable contributions may also be able to itemize.

Itemizing enables eligible taxpayers to take deductions such as:

* Charitable donations

* Medical expenses that exceed 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income

* Personal property taxes

* State income or sales taxes

* Casualty losses such as a fire, hurricane or earthquake

* Mortgage interest payments

Not filing

On average, the IRS announces annually that approximately $1 billion goes unclaimed in federal tax refunds. Taxpayers can claim a refund for up to three years after the filing deadline. So, in addition to filing your 2017 return, keep in mind to file your 2015 return by April 17, 2018. If not, you will lose your 2015 refund. There is no late-filing penalty if a taxpayer is due a refund. Also, even if you are not required to file a return, you may be entitled to a refund.

Taxpayers who want to ensure they get the maximum refund without a delay should visit https://www.hrblock.com/offers/refund-advance/ to see if you are eligible for a Refund Advance, or you can make an appointment with a tax professional.



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5 must-have home features for retirees

(BPT) - Sponsored ad content by Clayton Homes

As we move through the different stages in our lives, our housing needs change too. The home you were excited to move into in your 30s might not be ideal for those now nearing retirement.

According to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, between 2015 and 2035, the number of people over the age of 75 living alone will nearly double from 6.9 million to 13.4 million. Being prepared for retirement and aging is important, so we’re going to take a closer look at the specific housing features that would most benefit those who are looking to downsize or find that perfect home to "age in."

1. Walk-in showers

Installing a walk-in bathtub or large shower is a good idea for ease and safety. Having extra room to move is not only aging-friendly, but a timeless trend that is easy to maintain. Clayton, one of America’s largest homebuilders, features optional walk-in showers with benches that are available in many of their homes. This is a feature that’s great at any age.

2. Wide doors and hallways

Spacious doors and wide hallways do the double duty of making your home look great while providing enough space to maneuver a wheelchair or walker through if needed.

3. Open floor plans

A home design trend that is perfect for any homeowner age is an open floor plan. But for boomers, an open floor plan is more than just an aesthetic feature. Having wide spaces that allow you to move around is essential to maintaining your independence as you grow older. It also helps add more natural light and is ideal when gathering with family and friends.

4. Low maintenance

Fixing up an older home with good bones might look fun on TV, but it’s not something you will want to deal with in your retirement. Rather than trying to troubleshoot problem after problem, look for a newly constructed home. Not only will you have fewer maintenance issues, but you can design a flexible floor plan that fits your lifestyle.

5. A customizable floor plan

The features listed so far are part of what is commonly known as age-in-place design. These home features work for people of all ages, but are designed so you can age into them. In addition, make sure the home you purchase is single-story and fits the lifestyle you want for your future.

As you grow older, you realize there is no one, perfect dream home. Rather, there are different dream homes for different stages of your life. At Clayton, we know one home model does not fit all, and that is why we offer a range of models and designs that are easily customizable, affordable and stylish, allowing you to get the most out of your silver years.



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Here's how the tax reform plan could affect...

(BPT) - With the newly passed tax reform bill, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), now is the time to start thinking about how this will affect you so that you can plan ahead for the outcomes you will start to feel in your paycheck as early as February 2018.

This tax reform affects virtually everyone; however, families, homeowners, residents of high-tax states, the medically uninsured and small businesses will be especially affected. Most taxpayers will experience changes that could reduce or increase their taxes owed. If you’re not sure how this may affect you, here is a summary of possibilities.

Families

Like most taxpayers, many families will be affected by the loss of personal and dependent exemptions of $4,050 per person. However, families with income under $200,000 ($400,000 for joint filers) will be eligible for an increased child tax credit of $2,000. Those with income over that amount may be eligible for a smaller credit. This, along with larger standard deductions, may or may not make up for the loss of the personal exemption. Families with dependents over the age of 16 may also qualify for a new family tax credit of $500 for each dependent who does not qualify for the child tax credit.

Homeowners and residents of high-tax states

Homeowners and residents of high-tax states like California, New York and New Jersey, who typically itemize because they have large expenses like real estate taxes and state and local income taxes, may not be able to get the full tax benefit for these expenses, which are capped at $10,000. Some may not find it worthwhile to itemize going forward. Itemizing deductions is only worthwhile if all expenses exceed the standard deduction.

Medically uninsured

Starting in 2019, there will no longer be a penalty for those without health insurance. The penalty, which had become more and more expensive since first implemented in 2014, will not apply to taxpayers without insurance in 2019. Taxpayers who did not have insurance for all of 2017 and do not expect to be insured in 2018 need to make sure to talk to a tax professional, who can help you identify if you qualify for a penalty exemption.

Small-business owners

Some of the largest changes in the tax reform legislation apply to businesses, both large and small. These changes may also affect some rental activities. Corporations will see their top tax rate reduced to 21 percent from the current top rate of 35 percent, starting in 2018. Pass-through entities (LLCs, partnerships and S corporations) and self-employed individuals will be able to deduct 20 percent of their business income, subject to some limits (based on the type of business and income) and phase-outs (based on the partner’s/shareholder’s total income).

Retirement

Under the current law, taxpayers can reconvert a Roth IRA into a traditional IRA. This allows taxpayers to avoid paying high tax bills on an amount of money that had fallen in value after the conversion. Now, taxpayers will no longer be able to reconvert a Roth IRA to a traditional IRA.

The bottom line is that with this new tax legislation, you’re still going to need to get your documents in order and file your taxes, as well as decide if you’re going to itemize and what deductions work for your personal situation. This year, it’s more important than ever to talk to a tax professional about how this affects you to ensure that your taxes are done right and that you have a clear understanding of how changes that take effect in 2018 will impact how you file in 2019.

To learn more about the tax reform, how it may affect you and what steps you can begin taking to reduce what you owe in 2018, visit www.hrblock.com or make an appointment with a tax professional.



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5 spring remodeling projects sure to brighten...

(BPT) - During the coldest months of the year, it’s hard not to think about the warmer months to come — and all that they hold. You may already be planning your next vacation or outdoor activities to host in your backyard this summer. Now is the time to brainstorm about your spring home remodeling projects that can add enjoyment and value to your humble abode.

Home remodeling projects on the rise

As the U.S. economy continues to strengthen, home improvement project investment by homeowners has increased, according to the latest Residential Remodeling Index (RRI) study. As spring is a popular time for renovation projects, you may want to start checking out popular design trends, researching product choices and figuring out what you like and what works for your family.

Here are five projects that can help you reinvent your home this spring. Besides making your home more livable and meeting your family’s needs, you will be investing in the real estate value of your property.

* Take the mud out of the room. You don’t have to allow the mudroom to live up to its name. Consider installing a Fiat Molded Stone mop service basin with a multifunction hand shower to give your family a convenient and stylish spot to wash off boots and other bulky items. It’s also a great place to give your dog a bath or wash off dirty paws to ensure nothing is tracked into the house.

* Shed a little (more) light in your foyer. Your foyer is the entry point into your home, and the right lighting solution can make this space all the more welcoming. Newer LEDs or halogen light sources naturally generate a warmth that’s perfect for the entryway. Be sure to install a dimmer switch with your new lighting solution; it’s the best way to ensure your lights provide exactly the right ambiance for your entrance hall.

* A masterful master bath. Perhaps no room is more capable of providing luxurious relaxation than your bathroom. If yours isn’t living up to this billing, it may be time for some changes. The DXV Oak Hill bathroom collection offers a freestanding slipper tub for ultimate bathing comfort, along with a stylish high-efficiency toilet with a unique traditional farmhouse style. A coordinating high-back sink accented with a charming wall-mount faucet can finish off this bathroom remodel for ultimate enjoyment and function. This may be just the spruce-up needed to enhance your personal space, while adding value to your home at the same time.

* Make your outdoor space amazing. Once the weather turns warm, spending time outdoors will be top on your list. That makes now the perfect time to plan how you’ll use this outside space. A pergola is an easy-to-build addition that can give you a relaxing place to avoid the sun. Adding a flagstone seating area or creating a decorative border for a new fire pit might be perfect for your family. Try planting flowers for a pop of color, or invest more with new bushes or trees to round out your landscaping project. Plants like day lilies or hostas can survive in almost any environment and are an easy, effective way to optimize your green space.

* Shower power for all. For the all-purpose family bathroom, upgrading to a highly functional shower system will deliver results efficiently and enjoyably for all users. The American Standard Spectra+ shower system employs first-to-market technology that allows you to change the spray patterns simply by touching the outside ring of the showerhead for a customizable experience. The Spectra+ eTouch system also includes a remote control that can be mounted to any surface, allowing anyone having trouble reaching the showerhead to enjoy the same personalized shower satisfaction. It's luxurious and accommodating. What could be better than that?

Finding the perfect project for you

The spring season is home improvement season, so don't let it pass you by. Start thinking now, while staying warm inside during the colder months. Figure out what needs to get done first, then look online or in stores for ideas and get inspired for your spring home renovations. It will be project time before you know it.

Headline: Start planning your home improvement projects now

Here are projects that can help you reinvent your home this spring.

* Take the mud out of the room. Installing a Fiat Molded Stone mop service basin with a multi-function hand shower gives you and your family a convenient place to wash off boots, pets and other bulky items.

* Shed a little (more) light in your foyer. Incandescent or halogen light sources naturally generate a warmth that's perfect for the entryway. Be sure to always install a dimmer switch as well. * Shower power for all. For the all-purpose family bathroom, upgrading to a highly functional shower system will deliver results efficiently and enjoyably for all users. The American Standard Spectra+ shower system employs first-to-market technology that allows spray patterns to be changed simply by touching the showerhead for a truly customizable experience.



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Wellness begins at home: 5 tips for a...

(BPT) - From diets to exercise routines to standing at our desks while we work, we do a lot to stay healthy. Most of the time this involves focusing on what we eat and how we move. No doubt this is an essential component to good health, but increasingly, people are realizing their home environment can have a big impact on their mood, their health and how they feel.

The following are five changes in your home environment that can have the biggest impact on your overall well-being.

1. Declutter. Over the years, the stuff we own starts to pile up. Most of it we don’t need, but it’s hard to get rid of a lot of things. Maybe it was a gift, or has sentimental value. Whatever the case, it can be difficult, but going through your house and getting rid of the clothes, kitchen appliances and general clutter can be a transformative experience that reduces stress and creates a calmer home atmosphere.

2. Holistic health in your bathroom. Your day begins in the bathroom, so why not start it off right? You shower and brush your teeth, but are you aware of the health and cleansing benefits of using a bidet seat? Gynecologists, obstetricians and urologists all recommend cleansing with water, and a high-tech bidet seat like TOTO’s WASHLET S300e offers a luxury personal cleansing system to make you cleaner and more refreshed than you’ve ever felt after a bathroom break – and it's more eco-friendly than using toilet paper. You'll be surprised by how this simple addition to your bathroom can benefit men and women at all stages of life.

Looking for a seamless installation? Consider TOTO's Carlyle II 1G Connect+ S300e One-Piece Toilet, which delivers all the personal cleansing and comfort benefits of the WASHLET and conceals the water supply and electrical connection. This elegant combination will complement any bathroom décor.

To discover more life-changing alterations to make to your bathroom, visit totousa.com and discover what their people-first innovations can do for you and your home

3. The bedroom is for sleeping. Your mood, energy level, ambition and so much more depends on getting a full night’s sleep. To help ensure you get enough sleep, transform your bedroom into a sanctuary. If you have a TV in it, take it out and leave your phone in the kitchen when you go to bed. Your bedroom should be a spot for sleeping and relaxing activities such as reading or meditating.

4. Color matters. The color of a room has a huge impact on your mood; in fact, the color of a room can make or break a space. As a rule of thumb, many interior designers break colors into warm and cool. Warm colors such as yellow, orange and red create an energized space and may be great options for a family room or home office. Cool tones such as blue or green create a calming atmosphere, perfect for spaces where you go to relax and unwind.

5. Plants. It sounds simple, but it’s easy to overlook this one. Indoor plants provide the double service of boosting your mood and cleaning the air. For instance, common house plants such as a spider plant, peace lilies and a number of ferns naturally remove toxins such as formaldehyde, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and more from the air. This is a vital service, especially in winter.



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New ways renters are becoming homeowners

(BPT) - Sponsored Content from Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance, Inc.

The world that millennials have grown up in is a lot different than the world the Gen Xers and Baby Boomers knew. The digital revolution, widespread use of smartphones and adoption of disruptive technologies such as ride sharing and vacation rental apps are just a few of the factors that have altered the social landscape.

Unfortunately, rising student debt, rising home prices and other economic factors have hit many millennials and left them to believe that they cannot afford a home. Many feel as though they have been priced out of the American dream and they will never be able to buy a home.

But no matter what your age, there are plenty of ways to become a homeowner, you just have to think a little more creatively.

The rise of the rental

Looking at current trends, a recent research study found that more U.S. households are now renting than at any time in the last 50 years. With a rising number of renters, many have worried that we are becoming a nation of renters rather than a nation of homeowners.

This is most evident with the younger generation, people under 30, who the National Multifamily Housing Council have found now account for 50 percent of all renters in the U.S.

They aren’t renting because it’s a more affordable option, either. As many residents know throughout the country, rents are going up and up. Between 2012 and 2015, the median gross rent has gone up 8.24 percent, rising to $959. When you combine that with the utilities, a deposit and first and last month’s rent, it’s a lot of money to spend on something you will never own.

So why do people choose to rent? One reason is that many don’t realize that just like phones, cars and countless other things we use on a daily basis, homes have changed.

New priorities mean a new solution

As demand for housing increases, and prices on new and existing homes continue to rise, manufactured housing has adapted to the standards of today’s first-time homebuyers and provides a solution for a market in short supply of quality, affordable options.

In 2016, the average sales price for a manufactured home without land was around $70,600 — that’s an average of $48.82 per square foot — making them an affordable solution to renters looking to become homeowners.

“We believe manufactured homes offer a great solution for many households seeking affordable housing,” says Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance Inc. President Eric Hamilton. “We work with our customers to help find financing options that fit their needs and circumstances.”

Renters don’t have to continue doling out a monthly check for something they’ll never own. The housing market has changed and with this change, manufactured homes have brought forth new opportunities to become a homeowner.

NMLS Disclosure

Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance, Inc., 500 Alcoa Trail, Maryville, TN 37804, 865-380-3000, NMLS #1561, (http://www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org/), AZ Lic. #BK-0902616, Loans made or arranged pursuant to a California Finance Lenders Law license, GA Residential Mortgage (Lic. #6911), Illinois Residential Mortgage Licensee, Licensed by the NH Banking Department, MT Lic. #1561, Licensed by PA Dept. of Banking.



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Senior guest? How to prepare your home for...

(BPT) - Whether it's for a special occasion or just because, hosting an older adult in your home can be a wonderful experience with lots of memory-making potential. However, for a safe and successful visit, you may want to make a few adjustments to your home before they arrive to make it more senior-friendly.

"Spending time with aging parents or grandparents is a wonderful experience for all generations," says Sara Terry, Brookdale Senior Living's senior vice president of resident and family engagement. "Creating a welcoming and relaxing atmosphere is the job of any good host and that is no different when entertaining seniors. Considering older adults' varying mobility and comfort levels, there are a few adjustments you can make to your home to meet their needs."

Whether your guest is staying short- or long-term, Terry offers these six tips to help you transform your home into a more senior-friendly environment so you can focus on what matters most: making memories with your entire family.

Outdoors

The walkways to many homes are cracked or uneven, which is a risk factor for falls. Make sure the pathway is cleared and easy to see, shovel show in the winter and sweep leaves in the fall. Stairs can be tricky to maneuver as well. If possible, add a ramp that leads to your door. If there are stairs, install handrails on each side. Entryways divided by a threshold can be tricky for someone with mobility issues. Eliminate this common tripping hazard when seniors visit.

Clutter

The easiest thing you can do is remove clutter (especially on the floor) to allow sufficient space for senior guests who may be in a wheelchair to maneuver around rooms. Remove or tape down all cords. Rugs may look nice but they are a leading tripping hazard. Remove all accent rugs from your home, and in areas like the entryway where you must have mats, make sure they are secured with non-slip material.

Light

Seniors need more light than you do in your home, particularly in notoriously dim areas such as entryways, hallways and staircases. Replace existing soft light bulbs with brighter or higher wattage ones and add motion-sensor lights to bathrooms. Adding night lights throughout your home is an easy addition that helps seniors see better, especially at night or on darker winter days.

Stairs

Ideally, a senior won't have to navigate stairs, but if you have some in your home, you can make the space safer by having railings on both sides. Railings should be at least 1.5 inches in diameter to accommodate seniors with limited dexterity and aging grips. What's more, help each stair be more visible by using contrast strips (available at your local hardware store).

Bathrooms

Make bathrooms safer by adding well-placed grab bars next to the toilet and in bathing spaces. In the shower or tub, add non-slip strips and a shower seat for comfort and ease of use. For guests who are staying awhile, consider adding a handheld, adjustable-height showerhead. Finally, set the hot water heater temperature to 120 degrees as to avoid unintended burns.

Room selection

Whether your loved one is staying one night, one month or more, selecting the right room will increase their comfort and safety. One-level living is key, so if possible use a room on the main floor with easy access to the bathroom, kitchen and living room. Furniture, including the bed and chairs, should be at a good height (neither too low nor too high) to be easily used. Knobs can be difficult, so consider replacing round door handles with lever handles.

“In addition to these tips, I recommend having a conversation with your loved one before their stay,” says Terry. “Talk to them about what will make them feel at home in your home. What’s most important is enjoying your visit to the fullest and spending valuable time together."



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Think spring: Now's the time to plan the...

(BPT) - The weather outside is frightful, and the week ahead calls for falling temperatures, maybe even snow. That makes it easy to dream of warmer spring weather, but to plan for it? To sit and strategize for making the most of next year’s lawn and landscape projects? That seems like no small feat.

It doesn’t have to be.

The good news is that spring will be here before you know it, and now is the best time to work with your local landscape professional to set the stage for a healthy spring. With the expertise and knowledge of a professional, you’ll be well on your way to get a thriving landscape you’ll enjoy come spring.

Finding the right professional for you

Quality lawn care and landscape professionals are all around you, but finding the perfect one can be challenging if you go it alone. Instead, consult the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) professional directory at www.loveyourlandscape.org/find-a-pro/. You’ll have access to the NALP’s comprehensive directory and can find inspiration through the organization’s expert advice columns and idea center, motivating you to take your spring landscaping projects to new heights.

Making the most of your relationship with your landscape professional

The initial conversations you have with your landscape professional are essential for creating a beautiful outdoor space. When working with a professional, you can become more prepared by considering the answers to these questions in advance of your first meeting.

* What’s important to you? You don’t need to know every last detail, but you should have a broad understanding of what you want. Do you want to entertain? Have space to garden or create a private area to enjoy quietly by yourself? Determining what you want your yard to be and how it will be used can help your landscape professional realize your vision.

* What's your budget? When it comes to dreaming of the perfect landscape project, the limit is your imagination. But once you place some real-world practicality behind it, the limit will ultimately be your budget. So, how much are you willing to spend? It’s a good idea to have a rough estimate of this figure in your head before discussing plans with your landscape professional. Relaying this information to them will allow them to tailor a project that matches your expectations and your budget.

* What plants are best for your property? Flowers, shrubs and trees are all integral to any landscape project and you should have an idea of what you’d like to see. If you don’t know, visit your local greenhouse or nursery for inspiration and gain a greater understanding of native plants that fare well in your environment.

* What level of lawn care is needed? Whether or not you have sprawling acres of land, a healthy lawn of any size and shape sets the foundation for a beautiful landscape. Your lawn care professional can review with you how to grow and maintain a lawn through all the seasons. Consider if weed control, mowing, aeration, fertilization and irrigation may be needed as part of your lawn care program. A lawn care specialist can help you budget and plan for these tasks now, even if your lawn is covered in frost or snow!

It's never too early to start planning

The long weeks of winter are here, but now is the perfect time to formalize your plans for a gorgeous, spring lawn and landscape. A professional can help you reach every goal you've dreamed about. So start planning today. Your home will benefit from your preparation — and on those cold mornings, it sure helps to dream of spring, doesn’t it?



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Top trends for the 2018 housing market identified

(BPT) - In the real estate market, springtime is go time. It’s the busiest time of the year for home sales, and with this year’s stable economy and low unemployment rate, the spring of 2018 has the potential to be especially active.

Every market is defined by its trends, and while each year is different, identifying these trends early on can be a useful tool for buyers, sellers and agents to navigate the upcoming market and secure the best long-term solution for themselves or their clients.

With that in mind, here are a few top real estate trends to watch for in 2018, according to the real estate experts at RE/MAX.

1. Generations on the move

The shift in home buying preferences is more than just an individual choice; it’s a generational one. Two of the nation’s largest generations are suddenly competing with one another in the real estate market. Millennials have come of age, so to speak, and they’re starting to abandon their condos in the city for single-family starter homes in the suburbs to raise their families. This shift has put them in direct competition with baby boomers, who are looking to downsize to something smaller that meets the needs of their new lifestyle.

With these two groups looking for similar housing, well-maintained single-family homes are expected to go very quickly in 2018.

2. Inventory is tightening

While the spring will be flush with buyers, it remains to be seen if sellers will follow suit. The fall of 2017 proved to be sluggish in regard to the number of homes available for sale; in fact, total housing inventory was down 13.4 percent in October 2017 compared to the same time the year before, according to the RE/MAX National Housing Report.

The report also found that only three of the 53 metropolitan areas reported being in a buyer’s market or having an even balance. For the rest of the country, sellers seem to have the advantage. Will that change in the spring? It may, but buyers should be prepared for a market where they will have to be aggressive to purchase the home they want.

3. Housing policies have shifted

The presidential election in November 2016 and local elections from this past fall both have implications on housing policy. Adjustments to tax rates, the growth or decline of suburban options and zoning ordinance changes may all impact the markets where consumers are shopping.

To better understand how these changes may affect the housing search in a given area, potential homebuyers should contact a licensed real estate agent who understands the latest housing policies and how those policies will affect a potential home sale.

4. Technology is king

Like most other industries, real estate today is profoundly affected by the advent of technology. Homebuyers and sellers can go online or use apps to access information about a house or the market like never before, and virtual walk-throughs allow a buyer to enter a prospective home for the first time with few surprises.

For buyers and sellers, technology has the potential to reward those who do their homework and make the most of digital options before deciding how to use their precious time.

Navigating the 2018 market requires expert advice

The 2018 market will be dictated largely by what takes place in the spring, and the trends above figure to play a prominent role in most home sales and listings across the country. Every market contains its own subtle nuances, but homebuyers and sellers everywhere will benefit from the expertise of an experienced real estate agent, one who can help them capitalize on these latest trends and leave the 2018 market with everything they ever wanted and more.



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5 strategies for protecting your valuables

(BPT) - Home is your sanctuary, your castle, the place where you feel the most secure and protected. It is natural to feel this way. So, it is not surprising that you store your prized possessions and valuables at home as well. But is that the best choice for all your valuables?

The recent wildfires in California are the latest in a string of devastating disasters to impact homeowners in the U.S. Together with the hurricanes along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and tornadoes and flooding in the Midwest, residential property losses are expected to approach $100 billion according to CoreLogic. Making matters worse, as much as 80 percent of these losses are not insured. Together with the surge in residential burglaries over the last few years, it appears homes are under siege.

Because of these events, the cost of homeowners insurance is expected to increase dramatically in 2018 and beyond.

Now more than ever, you need a thoughtful examination of how best to protect your valuable possessions and to identify strategies to reduce your insurance costs.

These tips will help get you started:

* Create an inventory. Start with a written and video inventory of your prized possessions and valuables, including jewelry, cash or hard assets like gold, electronics, family heirlooms, and collectibles, such as coins, watches, or anything else that has monetary or sentimental value. Prioritize it starting with the highest value items first. With this as your starting point you can now begin putting a plan in place.

* Maintain secure off-site storage. On average, $2 billion of gold, silver and jewelry are stolen from homes each year and 93 percent of that property is never recovered, while fires and natural disasters destroy billions of dollars of valuable personal property every year. Using a safe deposit box to store these smaller valuables, cash, and collectibles substantially reduces the risk of loss from such events.

* Follow basic security rules.

- Don’t broadcast on social media when you are out of town for work or vacation.
- Leave lights on variable timers.
- Accompany repair or utility staff while in your home.
- Keep valuables out of sight and make sure to stop mail delivery while out of town.
- If you have a safe, make sure it is bolted down, preferably to a concrete floor.

* Evaluate your insurance. Standard homeowners or renters insurance places relatively low limits on jewelry, cash, and many other items. It also does not cover losses from flooding, earthquake, and hurricane unless you insure your valuables by a special endorsement or policy. Check your policy to see if you're fully protected. If you rent a box, inexpensive safe deposit box insurance covers any property stored in your box against virtually all events. Additionally, using an insured safe deposit box can significantly reduce your insurance costs and give you the ability to insure items that are not covered under your homeowners policy.

* Have a disaster plan. You typically have advanced warning of flooding, most wildfires, and hurricanes. Know what you would take if you needed to flee your home, what you would place in your safe deposit box and where you would store items left behind. Place your important documents in your safe deposit box and store them digitally in the cloud where they can be accessed at any time.

Today, when the 100-year event seems to occur multiple times every year, these basic steps can help you begin to manage the real threat to some of your most valuable property.

For more details on protecting your valuables, go to www.sdbic.com/savemoney.



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8 tips to prep your home for extreme winter...

(BPT) - As winter approaches, many cities in the U.S. have already started to experience the winter chill with temperatures below freezing and snow fall. But cold weather isn’t exclusively a northern phenomenon as the majority of the country experiences extreme temperatures at some point during the winter months. Remember in January 2014 when all 50 states logged below-freezing temperatures on the same day?

Cold weather can wreak havoc on your home and your comfort if you are not well prepared. That’s why it’s important to prepare your home for winter and take extra precautions for when the temperatures drop, no matter where you live.

Here are some tips that can help protect your house and comfort this winter:

* Install a smart thermostat. You may not always be home when you learn of a coming cold snap or hear that temperatures have plummeted. Using an app on your smartphone, a smart thermostat can allow you to make adjustments to your home’s temperature from anywhere, which means you can always come home to a toasty warm house.

* Seal windows and doors. Check weather stripping around windows and doors. If you find worn, cracked or inadequate sealing, replace it. Sealing around windows and doors helps prevent heat loss in the winter.

* Prep your pipes. Below freezing temperatures can cause water pipes to crack or burst. Insulate any water pipes that are exposed, winterize outdoor faucets and turn off the water to your home if you plan to be away for a prolonged period of time.

* Make sure your heat source measures up. Older, traditional HVAC systems can struggle to keep your home comfortable when temperatures dip below freezing. Consider installing LGRED-enabled HVAC technology to your home. LG’s Reliable to Extreme Degrees (RED) heating and cooling systems can be installed in a wide variety of climates, including places that experience extremely low temperatures. They provide 100 percent heating capacity down to 5 degrees Fahrenheit, and continue to heat reliably even when the outside temperature is as low as -13 degrees.

* Take care of your roof. Inspect your roof and repair any damaged shingles before winter storms arrive. Be sure gutters are clean to help prevent an ice dam and trim any tree branches that could fall on your home if they break under heavy snow and ice.

* Tackle inside germs. Extreme temperatures often force us indoors for long periods of times. With the LG PuriCare Air Purifier, you can leave your home feeling fresh and clean while sterilization removes floating viruses and germs.

* Add insulation. The Insulation Institute estimates 90 percent of American homes have less than the minimum recommended insulation. Check out the U.S. Department of Energy’s home insulation guidelines to see if you need to add more in your home. Having adequate insulation ensures your home efficiently retains heat and keeps the cold out.

* Gather emergency supplies. Extreme weather could leave you without power or unable to leave your home to get supplies or help. Keep a well-stocked emergency kit, complete with bottled water, non-perishable food, extra blankets, a battery-operated or hand-crank radio (for weather report updates), a battery or solar light source, and a solar charging device that can be used to power your smartphone. If you have a wood-burning fireplace for supplemental heat, be sure to have a supply of dry firewood on hand in case of a power outage.

Extreme weather can happen anywhere; in 2014, even Hawaii recorded a below-freezing temperature of 21 degrees. When it comes to home comfort and keeping your family warm during the winter, it’s a good idea to prepare for what is to come!



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5 tips to get in front of the pet hair in your...

(BPT) - From their loyal ways to their silly antics, pets bring so much joy to homes. While you wouldn’t trade any of the cuddles and welcome-home slobbers, one thing most pet owners don’t find quite as lovable is all the pet hair!

When you live with a furry friend, it’s inevitable that there will be pet hair everywhere—hiding under tables, collecting in corners and clinging to clothes and furniture. Cleaning up after it all can be hard work—but the good news is that there are some ways to keep it under control. With a few simple steps, you can keep your home clean and free from pet hair (at least until that next shake).

1) Embrace your inner groomer. The best way to deal with pet hair in your home is to stop it even before it starts. Regularly grooming your pet will help control pet hair and shedding. Get into the habit of brushing your pet each day. Chances are, they’ll enjoy the extra attention, and you’ll be able to collect and dispose of their hair before it gets everywhere else. If your pet needs extra care, take them to a groomer every couple of months to really control the undercoat or longer hair.

2) Use a vacuum designed to pick up pet hair. After you’ve used a conventional vacuum that fails to pick up your dog or cat’s hair a couple of times, it’s probably safe to say that you’ve had enough. Get your hands on a vacuum built for the job, like the BISSELL Pet Hair Eraser® Lift-Off® Upright Pet Vacuum, which is engineered specifically for homes with pets. It combines the power of an upright vacuum with the cleaning convenience of a lightweight, portable canister, so you can clean tight corners, stairs and furniture easily. It also has a tangle-free brush roll, so you don’t have to worry about hair wrapping around it. When you’re done, you can empty the canister without touching the hair inside.

3) Strategically place throw rugs around the house. Carpet and rugs are a magnet for pet hair—so use them to your advantage! Place throw rugs in areas your cat or dog frequents and they can collect the lion’s share of the shedding before the hair infiltrates every nook and cranny in the rest of your home. Then you can easily vacuum those rugs!

4) Give your pet a designated hang-out spot. While your favorite four-legged companion is hanging out around the house, offer them an extra comfy spot or two on the floor with large throw pillows or a pet bed so they have their own space. They’ll end up spending much of their time in these cozy spots and it will help you out by making the area you need to clean smaller.

5) Washable slipcover. There’s no reason to cut out couch cuddles with your fluffy friend. A washable slipcover for your furniture can work wonders to protect furniture from hair and messes. And, it doesn’t have to be the unsightly plastic covers people used to have —contemporary slipcovers are made of soft cloth, are easy to remove and look great. Most you can even throw in your washing machine to easily to remove the hair. In between washings, using vacuum attachments will help keep your couch hair free.

After trying out these tricks, the only evidence that there's a pet in your home will be from the lovable, furry greeting they give you when you walk in the door!



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5 budget-friendly master bathroom upgrades...

(BPT) - What does your bathroom mean to you? Is it an oasis, a place to unwind, relax and let the cares of the day simply melt away? Or is it just another room in your house?

If your answer is the latter, then your bathroom isn’t doing everything it could. The good news is, getting your space there doesn’t have to break your bank or signal a months-long remodeling process. The truth is there are plenty of unique, invigorating ways for you to reinvent your bathroom space — some of which you can tackle yourself, and all of which can be budget friendly.

So if you’re ready to turn your master bathroom from a simple location to a desired destination, do so with any or all of these five projects.

* Repainting in your image. When it comes to affordable projects that redefine the look of a room, it’s hard to beat a fresh coat of paint. Changing the color of your bathroom changes the entire appearance, and if you’re ready to strap on some clothes you don’t mind destroying, there’s no reason you can’t tackle this project yourself. Pick a color that matches your tastes and your space and your bathroom will take on a whole new feel.

* Get soaking. Remember all that talk about the oasis? It really starts with the tub. The Sterling Lawson Oval Bath offers beautiful style at an affordable price with soaking and whirlpool models. The bath can be situated to fit nearly any bathroom layout, and with a headrest and lumbar support included, as well as six jets featuring variable control, the Lawson oval bath is your perfect getaway that doesn't require you to actually get away.

* Fix up the fixtures. A brand-new tub completely redefines your bathroom, and if you want to bring the rest of your bathroom up-to-date as well, replacing your existing fixtures with new models is an easy way to do it. From towel racks to faucets and shower hardware, new fixtures are an effective way to show your sense of style and bring cohesion to your space while capitalizing on the latest technology.

* Finish the flooring. Your new bathroom deserves to look good from top to bottom. Pick a flooring style that speaks to you, spoil yourself with heated floors and rest easy knowing you’ll never have to grout again.

* Shed a whole new light. There is perhaps no room where lighting is more important than the bathroom. If your current bathroom feels more like a cave than spa, it’s time for a major lighting overhaul. Modern fixtures allow you to use fewer bulbs more efficiently, and installing a dimmer switch gives you the bright light when you need it without blinding yourself in the morning. Lastly, this is a great time to replace all of your old bulbs with energy-efficient options. They’ll last as much as 25 times longer, and replacing your most often-used bulbs can save you as much as $75 per year on your energy bill.

Start improving your bathroom today

Many people see their bathroom as a functional space in their home when it has the potential to be so much more. Apply any or all of the tips above and you'll turn your bathroom from a functional space to the oasis you've always wanted.



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Tips to save money and energy this winter

(BPT) - Winter is a time of year when expenses can soar, especially your utility bills. Thankfully, Chip Wade, HGTV expert, has some advice on how you can save energy, and ultimately money, this year:

* Lighting: LED bulbs are 90 percent more efficient than incandescent light bulbs.

* Prevent heat loss: Find and seal air leaks in your home. “Areas around windows and doors are often culprits for allowing heat to escape,” says Wade. Use caulking or weatherstripping to seal these leaks and keep the heat inside your home.

* Water heating: Did you know you can control the temperature of your water heater? Most households only require water heater thermostats to be set at 120 F, which is lower than what the temperature is typically set at. By lowering your water heating temperature, you’re not only reducing energy, but also preventing water from becoming dangerously hot.

* Adjust the temperature: Hosting a gathering? Consider turning the thermostat down. “More people in your home means an increase in your home’s temperature,” says Wade. “To accommodate for this, I turn my thermostat five to ten degrees lower than normal before guests arrive, so that they are comfortable.” Also, if you’re traveling, it’s good to keep in mind that programmable thermostats like the YORK Affinity Hx Touch-screen Thermostat can take care of temperature adjustments for you while you're away. YORK’s free downloadable app allows you to control the thermostat from your smartphone, no matter where you travel.

* Maintain your heating system: Be sure to schedule regular service appointments with your local technician to keep your heating and cooling system running properly. Also, set a calendar reminder to replace your air filters once a month to maintain proper airflow.

* Choose a high-efficiency furnace: Save energy heating your home by choosing a high-efficiency furnace. “Always consider a furnace’s annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) rating,” says Wade. “The higher the AFUE, the more efficient the furnace and the greater the amount of heat it delivers for your money. Look for models with AFUE of 90 percent or higher.”

For more ways to save energy and money, visit www.YORK.com.



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Infuse life into the bath for a spa-like oasis

(BPT) - Today, more than ever, homeowners gravitate toward design elements that transform the bath into a spa-like oasis. Designers look to incorporate pieces inspired by the natural world to bring renewed energy into the room and create a soothing environment. From fixtures inspired by booming waterfalls, to neutral color schemes and natural light, nature infuses life back into luxury bath design for a serene sense of calm.

Neutral calm

Light colors such as cool grays and muted blues evoke tranquility and peacefulness. Neutral colors for walls and fabrics create a soothing aesthetic that fosters relaxation in the space. To create visual interest within a neutral palette, incorporate varying shades of earth tones to serve as complementary accents throughout the room — from decorative rugs and plush towels to cabinetry and tiling.

Nature’s inspiration

Elements inspired by nature work together to produce a sense of relaxation in the home’s oasis. Intuitive in design, the Vettis Bath Collection by Brizo combines solid proportions and angular architecture with an optional four-sided open chamber that mimics the sensory experience of a waterfall. Inspired by the strength found in nature, the defined edges of the spout create a balanced aesthetic, while subtle facets offer visual depth. Paired with natural stone accents, this collection evokes elements of natural inspiration.

Stone serenity

A freestanding stone tub makes a luxurious statement to enhance the spa atmosphere. Sleek, oval architectures provide an organic contemporary touch, while rectangular basins deliver a strong geometric focal point. Take the spa-like experience even further and incorporate the use of essential oils. Lavender and chamomile reduce stress and encourage sleep, while peppermint and lemon oils increase focus and mental alertness in the morning. From modern to transitional aesthetics, a freestanding, natural stone tub paired with the sensory infusion of essential oils creates the perfect at-home getaway.

Living accents

Natural lighting and live plants blur the line between the great outdoors and the enclosed space. Large floor-to-ceiling windows and skylights serve as eye-catching accents while also naturally illuminating the room. Hanging succulents and potted bamboo plants are additional decor options to bring nature indoors without sacrificing clean, simple design.



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Entertaining tips: Worry-free ways to clean...

(BPT) - For many of us, this is the best time of the year to spend with friends, family and lots of food. The weather has turned colder, the clocks have shifted back and we’re ready to invite guests over to eat, laugh and make new memories for the new year.

Let’s face it, because you spend more time indoors this time of year, you’re also probably a bit more anxious when it comes to keeping the house tidy and making sure you’re keeping yourself and your guests healthy. So, what’s the best approach to cleaning up before your get-together starts? You’ve likely heard this before, but it’s true: Clean only what your guests see. There’s no need to push all your furniture into the middle of the room to clean your baseboards or grab those dust bunnies from underneath the china cabinet. Of course, you want the guest bathroom to be shipshape, as well as a few of the following areas, before guests arrive.

Home is where the oven is: Most people like to mingle in the kitchen (hello bacon-wrapped dates!), so you want it to smell like all your wonderful food, not harsh chemicals. While you might be tempted to clean every inch of the kitchen, keep it simple and remember to clean as you go, especially during food prep. From raw cookie dough to chicken wings, you want to be careful not to cross-contaminate surfaces, so disinfect and clean those food-prep areas often, including cutting boards. (Use a product like PURELL(R) Multi Surface Disinfectant, which contains no harsh chemicals, to keep those counters and prep stations worry-free.) Don’t let those dirty mixing bowls pile up, either. Rinse as soon as you can and load them into the dishwasher.

The hangouts: After the kitchen, you probably know where your guests will gravitate. Maybe the kids hit the basement or rec room and sports fans huddle in the family room around the TV. Vacuuming and dusting are a must, and put away all the non-essential items. Place anything you don’t need into your laundry basket and stash it in the laundry room.

So many things to touch: Now think about all those hands touching surfaces like doorknobs, remotes, toys or playpens, especially if you have little ones crawling about or you’re expecting lots of toddlers. No one wants to be sick, especially when there is fun to be had. To prevent the spread of germs, disinfect those often-touched items and surfaces with PURELL(R) Multi Surface Disinfectant, which not only kills 99.99 percent of germs on hard surfaces, but also sanitizes soft surfaces and other areas in the house where you normally wouldn’t use traditional products.

Runny noses: For every hostess gift or side dish people bring, you should also expect some sniffles and sneezes. Keep your guests comfortable by putting out some boxes of tissues and an alcohol-based hand sanitizer in key areas, like near the buffet line and next to the tissue box.

A little elbow grease and some targeted cleaning should leave you plenty of time for the really important stuff: cooking, eating and enjoying time with your loved ones.



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The New Year's resolution you can keep: A...

(BPT) - Nearly 42 percent of all New Year’s resolutions are broken by February, according to Statisticbrain. It’s easy to understand why — resolutions are difficult to keep all year long. Instead of risking disappointment in 2018, why not make a resolution that takes short-term effort but yields long-term benefits?

This year, resolve to make your home more environmentally friendly and energy efficient.

“The upgrades needed to make a house eco-friendlier can be accomplished in a relatively short amount of time and for a reasonable investment,” says Chris Garcia, an energy efficiency expert with Champion(R). “Instead of struggling to stick to a resolution month after month, resolving to reduce your home’s environmental impact is quickly achievable and satisfying. Plus, energy-efficient upgrades can help lower utility bills, and saving money is a great way to start the year!”

Garcia points to three areas of focus to help you keep your resolution to make your home better for the environment — and your wallet — this coming year:

Focus on the furnace

Heating and cooling account for about half of a home’s total energy usage, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Of course, where you live helps determine whether you use more energy to heat your home or to cool it, but the majority of homes in the U.S. have some form of heating, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reports.

“An old, faulty or wrong-sized furnace can significantly increase how much energy a home uses,” Garcia notes.

Start your new year by taking care of your furnace. Have a qualified professional inspect it if you didn’t do so at the start of the heating season. Check to be sure that all components of the heating ventilation and cooling system are working properly. Change air filters if you haven’t done so in a while, and set a reminder on your smartphone to change them throughout the year according to the furnace manufacturer’s guidelines.

If you need to replace an older, less efficient system, consider high-efficiency options like a Champion(R) Momentum(TM) gas furnace, which provides more heat for less money with a high 98 percent AFUE efficiency rating. The new system can reduce fuel costs nearly 38 percent compared to older models.

Eliminate air leaks

Temperature-controlled air can escape your home in multiple ways, including through air leaks in and around windows and doors, fireplaces, attics, basements and even garage doors. Air leaks can make HVAC systems work harder, use more energy and even shorten a system’s usable life.

Keeping cooled or heated air inside your home starts with sealing air leaks, which the Department of Energy says could yield yearly energy savings of 5 to 30 percent. Add or replace caulk and weather stripping around windows and doors, including garage doors. Check fireplaces, air ducts and points of entry such as water pipes, electrical lines and cable connections to ensure that no air leaks are occurring.

Add insulation in your home’s attic, basement or crawl space to help ensure your home stays warm in winter and cool in summer. Keep in mind often overlooked spots such as garages, especially if your home has a room over the garage space.

Rethink lighting

Replacing old, less efficient incandescent light bulbs throughout the house with newer, energy-efficient options like CFLs and LEDs is one of the fastest, most cost-effective ways to reduce a home’s energy consumption and environmental impact. The Department of Energy says that these types of bulbs use 25 to 80 percent less electricity than incandescent bulbs to produce the same amount of illumination. They can also last three to 25 times longer than traditional light bulbs, so you’ll save money in the long run by purchasing fewer replacement bulbs.

You can also reduce energy consumption by relying on natural light whenever possible. Start by opening curtains and blinds to let in light during daytime hours in winter months. To further increase the amount of daylight in your home, consider installing a skylight.

“New Year’s resolutions are notoriously hard to sustain for an entire 12 months, but energy-efficient improvements to your home mean you can fulfill your resolution to be more environmentally friendly in the first months of the year,” Garcia says. “Your resolution can be accomplished and continue to benefit you and the environment long after other resolutions have been broken.”

To learn more about Champion(R) furnaces, visit www.championhomecomfort.com/ecofriendly.



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Squash the pests, not your holiday spirit,...

(BPT) - The holiday season and guests go together like twinkling lights and fir trees, or peppermint and chocolate. However, while you might be eager to welcome family and friends to your home, you’ll probably be less excited to receive a visit from another all-too-common type of holiday “guest” — pests.

Pesky insects invade houses through a number of routes during the holidays. Indian Meal Moths can ride in with grains you purchased to make baked goods. Merchant Grain Beetles, despite their name, can take up residence in cake mixes and boxes of pasta. Spiders and other insects can hitch a ride indoors on Christmas trees. Boxes of decorations that were stored in attics, garages or outbuildings during the rest of the year can yield up a variety of insects — and even rodents — when you bring them inside for the holidays.

The National Pest Management Association offers some tips for keeping your home pest-free during the holiday season:

Ditching pests before decking the halls

Holiday decorations evoke the spirit of the season, and decorating the house is a fun tradition for many families. Take steps to ensure that when you deck the halls, your decorations are pest-free.

Greenery like trees, wreaths and garlands can harbor spiders, mites, moths and other pests, as well as their eggs. Holly boughs, pine branches, pine cones and other natural items commonly used in holiday DIY projects may also host insects. Before bringing anything indoors, give it a good shake outside. Then, inspect items for pests or eggs that may be hiding in branches, or on leaves and needles. These steps will help ensure you don’t bring anything into the house with natural decorations.

Decorations you reuse — and store from year to year in the attic, garage or outbuildings — can also become infested. Insects and rodents can find their way into storage areas and boxes throughout the year, so when you bring decorations out of storage, unpack boxes outdoors first. Check for pests like mice. Rodent droppings and gnaw marks — especially on light strands — are evidence of mice. Discard any decorations that appear to have been chewed on, especially electrical items.

At the end of the year, give yourself a head-start on a pest-free holiday next year by storing decorations properly. Use sturdy, hard plastic containers with secure lids to store decorations in the garage, basement, attic or outbuildings. This will help ensure rodents and insects can’t get into the decorations throughout the year.

Feasting is for family, not pests

Cookies, gingerbread houses and even fruit cake — many families love the tradition of holiday baking. However, nothing spoils holiday baking plans faster than finding bugs in a box of flour. Beetles, ants, earwigs, weevils, pillbugs, moths and a variety of other critters can get into stored food and infest an area in a short amount of time. Flour, dried fruit, nuts, chocolate, grains and other baking items are at risk.

Fortunately, you can take steps to ensure pantry pests don’t dim your holiday spirits:

* Did you know that most pantry pests ride home in items like paper grocery bags, cardboard or plastic bags? When you shop for groceries, inspect the packaging of all items before putting them in your cart. If a package is open or shows even slight signs of damage, don’t buy it. Promptly recycle any grocery bags you bring home, or — even better — use your own washable cloth grocery bag to carry items. You’ll not only have peace of mind knowing that no pests are riding home in shopping bags, you’ll also be doing something good for the environment!

* Before baking season begins, go through your pantry and cupboards to visually check for signs of pests. Sift through powdered ingredients to ensure they haven’t become infested while in storage. Check expiration dates and throw away anything that’s been stored too long.

* When you bring new ingredients home, store them securely in plastic or glass containers with tight-fitting lids.

* Clean up spills and crumbs on countertops, tables, floors and shelves right away, and don’t let trash build up in the kitchen trash container. Dispose of garbage regularly in sealed containers outdoors. From time to time throughout the year, empty cupboards and the pantry, and clean shelves with soap and water.

* Check around your kitchen and pantry for any cracks or holes where pests could get in. Seal openings around stovepipes and water pipes. Eliminate sources of moisture, like leaking pipes or clogged drains.

If you catch pests early, you may be able to prevent an infestation. But if an infestation has taken firm root in your home, consult a licensed pest professional to inspect and treat the problem.



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6 hot spots in your house where critters and...

(BPT) - When temperatures cool, critters that were perfectly happy outdoors begin looking for somewhere warm to spend the winter. They may decide your house is the perfect location — unless you take steps to keep them out.

You can prepare by learning what’s trying to get into your house and where they would most like to hang out once inside. The National Pest Management Association offers some information on the most common household pests that can show up in the winter:

1) Showering with a cockroach: Arguably the pest that creeps people out the most, cockroaches just love the water, so your bathroom could be their winter playground. To keep cockroaches out, eliminate leaks and standing water in the bathroom. Wash the shower curtain and liner, clean out the medicine cabinet, and check under the sink and around the tub and toilet to ensure there’s no moisture from leaky pipes or faucets. Remember, despite the urban legend about roaches surviving a nuclear holocaust, they can only live a week without water!

2) Rodents in the attic: Dusty, stuffy, hot in summer and cold in winter, the attic may not be your favorite place to hang out, but rodents like rats, mice and squirrels would just love to spend the winter in yours! Once rodents are inside, they can cause serious and costly property damage by chewing through walls and baseboards. In fact, the NPMA estimates rodents cause up to 25 percent of house fires every year by gnawing on electrical wires. To prevent a rodent infestation, secure everything you store in the attic (or basement) in sealed plastic containers rather than cardboard boxes, which are a favorite nesting spot. Keep the attic dry and well-ventilated. You can run a dehumidifier and install gutters and proper venting to keep moisture away from the attic and basement.

3) Party in the basement: Rodents also like basements, but they’re far from the only pests who will take up residence there. Spiders and a slew of other pests are happy to make their home in the dark corners and clutter that provide them plenty of places to hide. Deprive pests of their habitat by eliminating as much of the clutter in your basement as possible. Use plastic bins with secure lids for storage, rather than cardboard boxes. Pests can enter through cracks and crevices in walls and floors, so use a silicone-based caulk to seal fissures. Mice can fit through an opening the size of a dime, and other small insects need only a paper-thin crack to gain entry.

4) Ants in the kitchen: With a ready supply of food and water, your kitchen can be paradise for pests like ants. No one’s favorite picnic guests, ants are just as pesky in your kitchen where they enter through cracks and holes. To discourage ants, seal cracks or holes where pests might enter, particularly around stove and water pipes. Eliminate all moisture sites, including leaking pipes and clogged drains. Clean up crumbs, spills and stickiness on counters, tables and floors right away and never leave overripe fruit sitting out on the countertop.

5) Pests in the pantry: Other pests like your kitchen area, too, and your pantry is especially awesome to them. Most pantry pests such as beetles and Indian meal moths hitch a ride into your home in paper grocery bags, cardboard or plastic bags. The next time you grocery shop, inspect packaging before you put an item in your shopping cart. If the package is opened or shows the smallest sign of damage, don’t buy it. To ensure your pantry and cabinets are pest-free, periodically remove everything and toss out anything stale, old or expired. Stale spices and outdated flour can attract pantry pests. Wipe down the inside of cabinets and pantry shelves, and install fresh shelf paper. Store opened dry goods in plastic or glass containers that seal tightly.

6) Bugs in the bedroom: Bed bugs rival cockroaches for ick factor. Bed bugs enter your home through secondhand furniture, especially mattresses and box springs, or by hitching a ride on your luggage when you return home from a trip. Before bringing any secondhand furniture home, have a pest control professional inspect it for signs of bed bugs. After traveling, inspect suitcases outdoors before bringing them inside. Vacuum luggage before storing it or use a garment hand-steamer to help kill any bugs or eggs. Wash and dry all travel clothing, even items you didn’t wear, on hot settings. Store clothes that must be dry cleaned in sealed plastic bags until you can get them to the cleaners. Bed bugs are one pest you won’t be able to get rid of on your own, so if an infestation occurs despite your best efforts, find a qualified pest control professional at www.pestworld.org.



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6 tips to make your bathroom sellable, and...

(BPT) - When it comes time to sell your home, not all rooms are created equal. Sure, potential buyers will walk through the entire house, but their opinion of a few primary rooms can ultimately determine whether they choose to offer or walk.

Your bathroom(s) — especially your master bathroom — are among these key rooms. As you prepare to put your home on the market, it’s time to take an honest look at these spaces. What do the bathrooms say about your house? Do they say "buy me now" or "no thanks"? If it’s the latter, then it’s time for a few home improvements that will turn the sale of your house from stale to sold.

A sound investment?

Yes, it is. In fact, bathroom remodeling projects are some of the most cost-effective improvements you can make to a home, according to HGTV. A minor bathroom remodel has an average return on investment of 102 percent at the point of sale. A major remodel returns 93 percent of your investment. That means your newly upgraded bathroom will actually help sell your home for more money in the long run.

So what are you waiting for? Improve your bathroom today with these six tips below.

* Replace that old flooring. Carpet and tiny tile flooring — offering two different looks and feels — are both similarly outdated when it comes to bathroom decor. Alternately, hardwood floors can add a more current, upgraded touch and can be achieved with water- and stain-resistant ceramic tile that looks like hardwood. This delivers a distinctively modern look in a medium ideal for the humid bathroom environment.

* A new look for a familiar soak. Nothing conveys the comfort of an extraordinary bathroom like a luxurious soak in the tub. To set your bathroom, and your home, apart from the competition, replace your existing tub with the Studio Fold Over Edge tub from American Standard. This tub uniquely allows for a custom finish to the front apron to match wall tile and décor, creating a handsomely coordinated room. Plus, the tub’s spacious bathing well and extra lumbar support mean relaxation and enjoyment for you before the sale.

* Shed a new light. Proper lighting is essential in any bathroom and up-to-date light fixtures are a great way to increase the wow factor for potential buyers. If your bathroom currently displays the outdated style of exposed bulb fixtures, try replacing them with contemporary wall sconce lights to create a look that is sure to draw your visitors' attention.

* Find a first-rate faucet. Even a perfectly functional bathroom can be discredited by potential buyers if it showcases dated brass faucets and accents. If your space is guilty, try replacing the existing faucet with an American Standard Patience bath sink faucet. Offered in widespread or single handle models, these classically chic styles allow for easy operation by all users in the home. Plus, the choice of popular polished chrome or brushed nickel finishes provides a high-style look to entice home buyers, while delivering a water-efficient performance.

* Sink that old sink. Those rounded-edge Formica sinks had their share of the limelight, but now their time has passed. Today’s modern bathrooms have become edgier, especially when it comes to sinks. Straight-edge designs, made from natural stone, quartz or contemporary solid surface material, are popular sink solutions today. Replacing your old sink with a newer style helps ensure your bathroom isn’t left behind. Home buyers notice sinks, and this is one project you should tackle for higher return when you sell.

* Shower your bathroom with a new upgrade. Your showering experience should be as customizable as it is enjoyable. The GROHE SmartControl thermostatic trim offers intuitive, push-and-turn button operation for water temperature and flow rate control, all in a sleek, low-profile design. Available in both round and square styles, in stylish chrome, brushed nickel or white finishes, it’s the shower system you’ll enjoy every morning — and so will your home’s next owners.

Start your bathroom project today

The bathroom is one of the most important rooms in your home for potential buyers. It can also be one of the most enjoyable rooms while you're still in your home. Make these upgrades to your bathroom so that you can relish these improvements, as well as entice buyers when it comes time to sell.



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Top 5 features millennials look for in a home

(BPT) - For generations, homeownership has been part of the American dream. For most Americans, it’s the largest, most significant investment they’ll make, and because homeownership is the best way to grow their wealth, the most important investment as well.

As the youngest generation of new homeowners, millennials are entering the housing market and are eager to get a home to fit their unique lifestyles. Just as every generation has its own music, its distinct style and look, the new generation of homeowners has different expectations than buyers did a few decades ago. To shed some light on these evolving home trends, here are five of the most popular features millennials look for in a home.

1. It needs to be energy efficient. More than other generations, millennials are particularly concerned with their impact on the environment. As such, they want to be sure the home they buy will have a minimal carbon footprint. Some energy-efficient features that are a priority for homebuyers are UV-protected windows, programmable thermostats, efficient appliances and upgraded insulation.

2. It needs to be customized to their tastes. It’s not enough to find a home that is merely “livable”; millennials want a house that is an outward and inward expression of who they are. Translation: The one-size-fits-all model is no longer sufficient. This is one reason manufactured and modular homes from Clayton Homes have become so popular. They offer diverse floor plans with a number of customizable options to suit individuals' needs and unique styles. There are even built-in home features for pets!

3. Rethinking space usage. The era of buying a house as big as you can afford is on the way out. Many millennials are forgoing the extra bedrooms and enormous living rooms. These homebuyers prefer smarter ways to utilize space for their family’s needs, while keeping a cozy and intimate atmosphere.

4. Open floor plan. In a world where everyone seems to be plugged into their phones and staring at their individual screens, the open floor plan has emerged as a way for families and guests to come together and share the same space. Basically, the fewer walls between the kitchen, dining room and living room, the better. This floor plan also aids homeowners with their entertaining needs and provides more natural light, which is very big for this young generation.

5. A room for a home office. The millennial workforce is a mobile workforce, and just as this generation is transforming the home market, it is also transforming the workplace. Millions of Americans work from home, and many more are often given the option to work a day or two a week from home. With this shift, many potential homeowners want to be sure there is a suitable workspace for an office.

With evolving needs and different tastes, many millennials worry that they will spend a lot of time searching for that one, perfect dream home. At Clayton Homes, we provide a range of green, energy-efficient home models that can be customized with a range of affordable options. From the kitchens to outdoor living areas and multifunctional spaces, millennials and everyone else can find the choices that will allow them to tailor their home and their living space to suit their lifestyle.



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5 tips for speed cleaning your home

(BPT) - What is one of the biggest sources of stress? It’s cleaning on a deadline, especially when guests are on their way.

But with the right plan in place, even last-minute cleaning can be efficient and stress-free, says Debra Johnson, Merry Maids home cleaning expert.

In an online survey conducted by Toluna, more than half of respondents admitted that most of their cleaning takes place just before guests arrive. With a bit more focus, this preparation can be quick and effective, without stress. After all, parties shouldn’t be a race against the clock. They’re about spending time with friends and family.

Johnson shares the following tips to clean smarter, not harder, in the limited time you have before guests arrive.

1. Ready, set … declutter

The important first step is to declutter rooms. Set a timer if needed to help you stay on track and avoid spending too much time in one room. Put things where they belong, or if they don’t have a home, put them in a room or under beds where no one will see. Save decluttering those hidden storage areas for later. Prioritize rooms you use most, so if you run out of time, guests won’t notice an untidy area.

2. Only clean what guests will see

Join the more than one-third of Americans who don’t bother cleaning rooms people won’t see. You have enough to stress about as the host. Don’t waste your precious time cleaning parts of the home no one will ever see. Simply shut doors to rooms that you want to keep private, signaling to guests not to enter. If you have family staying with you, give guest rooms a once-over, clean the bathrooms that will be used and, of course, the kitchen and living room.

3. Skip the sweep

Don’t spend time sweeping with a dry mop when you can vacuum instead. Vacuuming is far more efficient and faster at removing dust, dirt and other debris from the floors. Keep a portable hand-held vacuum nearby in case of a big mess, like a glass breaking during a party. Within seconds, the mess will be gone and you can go back to enjoying the festivities.

4. Speed-clean the bathrooms

All you need to clean your bathroom quickly is a damp microfiber cloth to give every surface a quick wipe-down and a toilet brush to clean the inside walls of the toilet. To freshen it up even more, pour a half-cup of baking soda into the toilet bowl and add white vinegar along with a few drops of your favorite essential oils. Allow the mixture to bubble for a bit and scrub with a toilet brush. Then, voila: your bathroom is clean, shiny and smelling great.

5. Tackle the microwave mess

You know people will want seconds well after the leftovers are put away, so use this tip to tackle microwave build-up: Combine lemon juice and water in a microwave-safe bowl and run it for about two minutes. The lemon water will loosen any gunk or food in the microwave for an easy wipe down with a microfiber cloth. Now guests can reheat their leftovers in a clean microwave.

With the cleaning under control, all that’s left for you to do is to light a few candles, conquer the grocery list and, of course, enjoy your special guests.

If you simply don’t have any time to spare, Merry Maids has the resources and experts to help. Find information at www.merrymaids.com.



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Homeowners liable for snow and ice control

(BPT) - Whenever it snows, it is common to see shopping center employees and business owners out and about clearing pathways, parking spaces and entrances of snow and ice. But this isn’t just good business to help customers get in the door, it is also a liability issue should someone slip, fall and injure themselves. Homeowners, too, face similar, albeit more limited, liability if they fail to take adequate steps to remove such slippery hazards from their property.

Generally speaking, homeowners are responsible for limiting dangers on their property, but in some cases this can also extend to public sidewalks abutting the home. In some localities, Homeowners Associations (HOAs), and governments also require that homeowners clear snow and ice or face fines. A regional survey of county and municipal ordinances conducted by the Salt Institute found that 83 percent have written policies directing property owners to remove accumulated snow and ice "within 24 hours of the end of the snowstorm." Penalties for property owners not complying can range from nominal tickets to misdemeanors punishable by up to 90 days in jail and fines of up to $500.

Shoveling snow is simple enough, but ice is another matter, and nothing works better to remove ice or prevent ice from forming than salt. Salt lowers water’s freezing point, the temperature at which it changes from a liquid to a solid and vice versa. Melting water that is already frozen is called deicing and is applied once ice appears. Preventing water from freezing in the first place is called anti-icing and is applied when a freeze is expected.

Commercially available anti-icing materials include salt (sodium chloride), calcium chloride, magnesium chloride, potassium acetate and calcium magnesium acetate. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, but salt brine remains the best choice for anti-icing in temperatures above 15 degrees F (minus 9.4 degrees C) and continues to work in temperatures as low as minus 6 degrees F. For extremely low temperatures, look for a mixture using calcium or magnesium chloride instead.

Laws regarding snow and ice clearing vary by state and locality, but most mandate that some action be taken within a reasonable time period after it stops snowing. For example, the Illinois Snow and Ice Removal Act states that any owner who "removes or attempts to remove snow or ice from sidewalks abutting the property shall not be liable for any personal injuries allegedly caused by the snowy or icy condition of the sidewalk resulting from his or her acts or omissions unless the alleged misconduct was willful or wanton."

The dangers from slips and falls should not be taken lightly, especially for the elderly. Each year thousands are rushed to emergency rooms as a result of icy falls with injuries that could have easily been prevented. One enterprising hospital, St. Vincent’s in Indianapolis, Indiana, even decided to give away road salt to local residents one winter to try and prevent such injuries and the resulting emergency room visits. In the end, the person who is most likely to slip and fall is the homeowner themselves.



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4 DIY projects perfect for winter months

(BPT) - Cooler temperatures have arrived. But does that mean it's time to shelve your DIY aspirations for the rest of the year?

Hardly.

Colder outdoor temperatures may have forced you indoors, but they don’t have to mark an end to your DIY pursuits. There is still plenty of work to be done and you can reinvent the rooms inside your home by following through on the simple DIY projects listed below.

* Make a hardware replacement. Want to remodel your kitchen or bathroom but lack the money and the skill to tackle it right now? Not a problem. Simple hardware replacements to your cabinets, drawers and towel racks are easy projects that are cost effective and still catch visitors’ eyes. Remember, knobs are preferable for drawers, while handles are the choice for cabinets. Try to select hardware that supports the overall feel of your space.

* Choose an image that defines you. Forgo paint and let your walls really take the spotlight. A custom wall covering or mural adds personality and creates an instant focal point in any space. At Murals Your Way, you can choose from thousands of image options or if none feel quite right, use their Create Your Own feature to highlight a vista from your last vacation, or even a photo of your family.

* Shed a new, enhanced light. Like your kitchen or bathroom fixtures, updating the lighting in a room is an easy, inexpensive way to make a significant improvement in your space. The right light can make any space feel warmer and look larger, so explore your creative side and find the lighting solution that appeals to you. Lastly, don’t discount the importance of the bulb. Replacing your existing conventional bulbs with energy-saving alternatives can dramatically reduce your electricity bill.

* Decorate from head to toe. If you want your home to feel larger and provide your guests more visual appeal, employ decoration tactics that speak to the entire space. Shelving, wall art and photo collages are all popular ways to add real contrast to an empty space.

Start with these four tips and your DIY projects can make a big impression.



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Survey: Messy garages stand in the way of...

(BPT) - Americans would love more time to pursue hobbies they’re passionate about, and time-drains like disorganized garages are a big obstacle to doing the activities they enjoy, according to a new survey conducted by Gladiator and Kelton Global.

Eighty-four percent of Americans surveyed would like more time for their passions, and nearly 40 percent said a lack of time was standing in the way, the study found. Instead of partaking in hobbies like adventure sports, arts, reading, music and gardening, Americans are spending more time running errands (41 percent) and even catching up on much-needed rest (44 percent).

Americans’ passions

Hobbies aren’t just for fun in the minds of most Americans, the survey found. In fact, respondents say their passions help them maintain happiness and relieve stress. Fifty-nine percent say engaging in their favorite activities is a stress-reliever for them. What’s more, many feel their hobbies help define who they are; 24 percent of adventure seekers associate their hobbies with their self-identity.

What’s getting in the way

While a lack of time is a significant obstacle to Americans’ pursuit of their passions, it’s not the only one. According to survey respondents, other factors standing in the way include:

* Not having enough money (49 percent)

* Other priorities, such as family (39 percent)

* Work obligations (23 percent)

* Resting (44 percent)

* Cleaning and organizing their home (34 percent)

Sacrificing for passions

When it comes to finding more time to pursue their passions, Americans are willing to go to great lengths. More than a third of the working Americans surveyed leave work early to engage in hobbies, and 27 percent would take a sick day.

Survey respondents say if they could have more time for their hobbies, they also would be willing to:

* Sacrifice an hour of sleep every night for a month (25 percent)

* Give up coffee for a month (25 percent)

* Get a tattoo (15 percent)

* Wear something silly in public (17 percent)

* Spend an extra half hour per day stuck in traffic (11 percent)

* Give up their cell phones for a month (12 percent)

Solutions instead of sacrifice

Many Americans understand disorganization can cut into time they would like to spend on other pursuits, including their hobbies. Of course, the gear, supplies and equipment needed for hobbies like outdoor sports, electronics and arts and crafts often get stored in garages. Getting help with garage organization could free up time for Americans to do the things they really love.

Gladiator recently launched nine new GearTrack(R) Packs designed to make it easier for Americans to organize all the accoutrements that they need to pursue their passions. Building off the original GearTrack(R) Pack, each custom kit features a unique set of hooks, baskets and storage spaces designed to accommodate items for different activities such as gardening, bicycling, basketball, football, baseball, sports bags and golf gear. Visit GladiatorGarageWorks.com to learn more.

Study was conducted by Kelton Global, a leading global insights research firm, between April 12-16, 2017 among 3,127 Americans ages 18+ with a margin of error of +/- 1.8.



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How to avoid cold weather woes

(BPT) - As sweater season knocks on the door, it’s time to prepare for the brisk temperatures ahead. This winter, keep your home, health and well-being top of mind with these simple tips to avoid cold weather woes.

Winterize your porch

Install plexiglass panels to keep the cold weather out, allowing you to host friends and family, protect your furniture from snowfall and minimize spring cleaning. Once winter is over, simply pack up the panels and store them for next season. For those who splurged on flooring, apply a protective finish, such as a water sealer or stain, to ensure excess moisture does not seep through the wood.

Take preventative measures

Oftentimes, frozen pipes can burst throughout the winter, or cause leaks as they begin to thaw in the spring. Keep your home safe from leaks by installing the Delta Water Leak Detector — a device that identifies leaks quickly and alerts homeowners at the onset. Simply place the leak detector near water heaters, appliances, sinks or toilets to detect drips or pooling. For added convenience, connect the device to your cell phone to receive alerts in real time.

Turn it upside down

To warm your home without drastically increasing the gas bill, simply reverse the ceiling fan direction. During the summer months, ceiling fans push air down, naturally lending a cooling effect to those below. By reversing the ceiling fan upward, the cooler air is redirected, keeping you and your family warm beneath.

Cozy up your home

To battle dreary days, stock up on warm essentials, such as flannel bedding, down throw blankets and plush towels. Outfit the common areas with warm fabrics and decorative patterns to keep your home cozy and welcoming during the winter. Finally, consider purchasing comfortable rugs and mats to keep your toes warm on tile and wood floors.



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3 tips to keep your home cozy all winter

(BPT) - Every year, homeowners across the country take precautionary steps to winterize their homes to protect against burst water pipes as well as improve their overall comfort throughout the colder months. Winterizing your home goes beyond just ensuring snow and chills stay out. These three tips will help ensure that your home is adequately prepared for the harsher months ahead.

1. Reduce the risk of water damage — Beyond damage sustained from heavy rainfall, water damage can occur because of ice dam formation. Ice dams on your roof as well as snow melt near vulnerable basement windows can cause significant (and often unseen) damage to your home, which can result in costly repairs. Replacing traditional attic insulation with open-cell spray foam insulation can help mitigate air loss through your home’s roof, reducing the risk of ice dams while also helping to keep all that expensively conditioned air inside your home, keeping you and your family comfortable. Closed-cell spray foam insulation installed in basements can help reduce the risk of water entering your home. FEMA has identified this insulation as a flood-resistant material.

2. Reducing the prevalence of drafts — Cold spots and drafts throughout your home can literally make you shudder. It is estimated by the Air Barrier Association of America (ABAA) that gaps and cracks throughout the typical 2,500-square-foot American home can equate to more than half a mile. Sealing your home’s tiny cracks and crevices can help reduce the possibility of drafts inside your home.

3. Address potential problems before they develop — The frigid winter weather can often create problems that you did not anticipate around your home. Colder temperatures and increased precipitation are harsher on a house. Cleaning eavestroughs, ensuring the seals around windows and doors are intact, upgrading your traditional insulation and getting your HVAC unit serviced are all actions that can help to prepare your home for the upcoming winter.

Insulation can play a vital role in winterizing your home, allowing you and your family to remain comfortable throughout the entire winter. Spray foam insulation like that available from Icynene works well in all climates to seal the building and fill gaps to stop air leakage and reduce the strain on HVAC equipment.

More information is available online at www.icynene.com.



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Desperate deer turn winter into the most...

(BPT) - Deer can cause major damage to yards in any season, but in winter they can be downright deadly to some of the most expensive backyard landscape plants.

When regular foods like leaves, grass and annuals become scarce, deer turn their attention to woody plants, shrubs and trees that stay green in winter, like rhododendron, arborvitaes, yew, holly, and those that lose their leaves, like oak, willow and dogwood trees. Deer will tear away at the lower leaves and branches of these shrubs and trees, which won’t grow back evenly and may be permanently damaged, in need of replacement, come springtime.

Arborvitaes and other landscape shrubs and trees can take years to grow to maturity. They’re also the foundation of your backyard’s beauty. Deer damage in winter can add up to a big budget-busting bill to replace plants, not to mention negatively affecting the beautiful aesthetics of your yard and garden.

Because food is scarce, and high deer populations mean more competition for food, deer are likely to be more resistant to efforts to evacuate them. They’ll return to areas where they found plentiful pickings in warm weather, and be more inclined to stay put until an area is stripped clean of all possible food sources. A single adult deer eats about 12 pounds of foliage a day and does usually occupy the same 3- to 4-square-mile area for their entire lives. During her lifetime, a doe will procreate every year, having as many as two or three fawns at a time. If you’ve had deer in your yard before, it is more than likely your yard is on their list to forage and is at risk this winter.

Deterring deer

Homeowners need to be proactive and prevent deer damage during winter. No one wants to be faced with the expense of replacing deer-damaged shrubs or trees.

* Fencing can be effective if the fence is higher than deer can jump (at least 8 feet), but many suburban areas limit fence heights. Even if your neighborhood allows a high fence, building one is expensive and can be unsightly.

* Some homeowners turn to a range of “home remedies” intended to be harmless to deer, people and pets. Remedies like pepper spray, soap or predator urine may be harmless but rarely deliver reliable results for deterring deer.

* Commercial repellents may not have been third-party tested for efficacy, or they rely on harsh chemicals that may be harmful to the environment, pets and other landscape plants. To be most effective in winter, when deer are desperate, repellents should be applied in fall, and continually reapplied as needed, throughout the cold months. Using a repellent all year, conditioning deer to skip your yard, is always your best bet.

A better repellent solution

* The Connecticut Department of Forestry tested nine like deer repellents and concluded Bobbex Deer Repellent is 93 percent effective in repelling deer, only second to a physical barrier. The topical, all-natural foliar spray prevents deer, moose and elk from browsing and damaging ornamental plantings, shrubs and trees. Bobbex’s active ingredients are a series of proteins that make the product safe for the environment and for use on even the most sensitive foliage. The product mimics predator scents that deer have an aversion to and is classified as a fear repellent, but it also tastes bad, adding another layer of protection for plants. Because it contains effective sticking agents, the repellent won’t wash off, even in harsh winter weather.

Left undeterred, deer can strip bare your landscape’s most expensive and susceptible plantings, leaving you with an unattractive yard and high repair bills when warm weather arrives. Taking preventive steps can help ensure deer learn to leave your yard alone throughout the winter, and with continued use, keep them at bay, all year long.



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10 tips for efficient, effective home appliances

(BPT) - Today’s typical family home is a buzzing hub of activity where meals are cooked, homework is done and family game nights are contested. In the background of it all: the home appliances that keep life moving along. Focusing on a few maintenance tasks can keep appliances efficient and effective.

Maintain tools

Replace vacuum belts periodically to keep your vacuum cleaner running like new, and swap out lawn mowers’ spark plugs once a year to ensure the mower is easy to start. Stock up on extra batteries for cordless vacuums, leaf blowers or other lawn equipment used frequently.

Focus on filtration

Replace vacuum cleaners’ accessories often for best performance. Bags need to be replaced every one to two months, while a new filter is needed every three to six months. Washable filters should be replaced too, as they may begin to lose effectiveness after a couple of washes. For great vacuum performance, use Arm & Hammer vacuum bags and filters to capture allergens, dust and pet hair from surfaces while safely and naturally absorbing odors.

In addition, make sure to replace HVAC filters for better efficiency and higher quality air filtration.

Clean appliances

Appliances share one rule: Never, ever let spills or splatters linger. Whether it’s on the stove, in the microwave or in the refrigerator, the longer deposits remain, the harder they are to clean. Keeping these appliances clean will mean that a deeper scrubbing is only needed occasionally.

* Refrigerators – Twice a year, pull out the refrigerator to clean behind and under it. Mop the floor and use a vacuum to remove dust from the coils in back. This will decrease the stress put on the motor and can prolong the life of the refrigerator. Use soapy water to clean shelves, and a damp cloth to remove fingerprints from the front or sides.

* Dishwashers – About once a month, check and clean the drain and wipe down the door seals and spray arm.

* Oven – Embrace the self-cleaning option on the oven to do the heavy lifting whenever it’s needed. Wipe down the inside of the door and creases to ensure there aren’t crumbs accumulating. Soak burners, knobs, racks and hood vents twice a year to keep them free of grime.

* Microwave – Clean the rotating microwave plate weekly in the dishwasher. When needed, put a bowl of water with lemons in the microwave and run it for three minutes, then let stand for five minutes before wiping down the inside.

* Washing machine – Always wipe out the machine to ensure there is no water left sitting in it. For a deeper clean, run the washer with bleach in the dispenser, pause the machine and let the bleach mixture settle for an hour, then complete the cycle before wiping it out.

* Coffee maker – Hand wash the filter tray, exposed areas and crevices weekly, and run water with a bit of vinegar through — without coffee — to clean the inner mechanisms.

* Safety first – Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are in the home to keep families safe — but they need new batteries to ensure equipment is working as it should. Every six months, change the batteries in all smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms, and make sure fire extinguishers are still in place and not expired.

Arm & Hammer bags and filters are available at Walmart and Walmart.com.



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6 home cleaning tips for pet owners

(BPT) - Having a pet may seem like the beginning of a never-ending mess, but the key to living with furry friends is preparation. Whether combating odor, keeping surfaces free of dirt and fur or removing pesky stains, taking preventative measures and using the right products can turn any mess into a simple task.

Stop dirt at the door

The weather can’t be controlled, but it is possible to keep dirt and debris outside. Keep pet wipes at the door to clean paws and stop mud in its tracks. Look for an all-natural product that will not only capture dirt, but moisturize paw pads and fur at the same time. Thinking ahead and stopping pets from bringing in dirt creates fewer cleanups.

Capture fur from furniture

Pets love sitting on the sofa — and leaving hair behind. Use a vacuum with tools that are designed to clean upholstery, making it easy to keep furniture looking fashionable, not furry.

Fight odors easily

Beyond furniture, fur finds its way to floors and every other surface of the home. Every pet owner knows that frequent vacuuming is a must. To optimize vacuum performance, vacuum bags should be replaced every month or two, and filters should be replaced every three to six months. Arm & Hammer Pet Fresh bags and filters help capture pet dander and allergens, while safely and naturally neutralizing offensive smells.

Keep clothes clean

Clearing furniture and floors of pet hair is a start, but clothes also attract fur that can stick with pet owners long after leaving the house. Homeowners should keep lint rollers by the door to quickly remove pet fur from clothing on their way out the door. Guests also will appreciate the opportunity to remove pet fur that may have accumulated during their visit.

Save woodwork

Protect valuable home items and woodwork from tooth and claw marks by taking preventative measures to deter animals. Furniture-safe products like bitter-tasting sprays will not only stop pets in the act, but also keep them away from areas where they aren’t allowed. If pets do leave marks on woodwork, look for nontoxic wood fillers to mend scratches and gashes.

Stop stains

Say goodbye to unsightly carpet stains and lingering odors by opting for strong, pet-friendly products that will leave homes looking like new. Arm & Hammer Pet Fresh Dry Carpet Cleaner neutralizes pet odors and breaks down stains. Arm & Hammer Carpet and Upholstery Cleaner has baking soda and powerful stain fighters and is safe for use in all deep-cleaning machines.

By taking preventative measures and using pet-safe products, humans and their four-legged companions can be perfect cohabitants.



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Preparing for a party? Try these 4 tips

(BPT) - It’s important not to allow the stress of entertaining large groups to become a burden. Below are four tips to help organize a kitchen and host with ease, creating a functional space for family and friends to enjoy.

Plan ahead

Set aside time early in the week to plan the menu, from simple appetizers to the main entree. Grocery shopping apps allow the family to share and build lists together — which can help avoid any last-minute trips to the grocery store. Also, try to identify dishes that can be prepared in advance so more time can be spent away from the kitchen when guests arrive.

Maximize storage and counter space

Optimize counter space by designing small stations for easy access to the necessities. A coffee bar “nook” complete with cups and mugs can help kick-start a busy day. Storage near the fridge should be stocked with foil and containers, ideal for packing up leftovers after a large party. Reserve the island counter for meal prep and the cabinets below for serving ware and glassware storage.

Keep all staples in arm's reach

Cooking can be made simple by organizing the essentials. Keep similar tools together, such as bakeware and cookie sheets in one drawer, and pantry staples in another. Spices and herbs should be alphabetized and stored near the stovetop to effortlessly add flavor. For those with design in mind, opt for open shelves to showcase dishes and small kitchen accessories, such as succulents and cookbooks, while keeping everything within reach.

Simplify kitchen cleanup

Cleaning is often the most time-intensive chore in the kitchen, but if designed right, can be a breeze for home entertainers and kids alike. The Delta Foundry Kitchen Faucet offers laser-like precision to contain splatter, meaning less soaking, scrubbing and shirt swapping.



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The sound of silence: How to design a quiet...

(BPT) - In today’s increasingly digital world, it’s no surprise that more employees are opting to work from home. While there may be a shift of physical locations — from the office building to the home — productivity is still paramount, making the need for quiet home workspaces more important than ever.

“As urbanization continues, builders and developers are focused on optimizing available land, which results in more homes, apartments and condos built near highways and airports,” says Mark Montgomery, vice president of marketing for leading window manufacturer Ply Gem Windows. “The convergence of telecommuting and higher noise levels means there’s a growing need to enhance homeowner comfort with noise reduction technology.”

If your workspace needs a sound makeover, consider the following tips. For even more information on home improvement solutions, check out websites like www.plygem.com.

Think from the outside in

Everyday sounds like traffic, trains, leaf blowers, music, barking dogs or car alarms may go unnoticed on the weekends, but can easily interrupt conference calls and concentration during the busy workweek.

To cut down on outside noise, look for windows with Sound Transmission Class (STC) rating. A typical single hung window unit without sound control glass has an average STC rating of 27. Sound control glass packages, on window lines like Ply Gem’s 1500 Brickmould Vinyl Collection, have ratings of up to STC 35. This reduces outside noise by approximately 40 percent when compared to single hung window units with no protection.

“STC glass packages may not be necessary for every window in the home, but should be considered for the rooms where the reduction of unwanted noise is most important — like the home office and bedrooms,” advises Montgomery.

As an added bonus, according to the Department of Energy, new windows will boost curb appeal, reduce maintenance and can significantly improve your home’s energy efficiency.

Insulate the interior … and the exterior

If your home office space shares a paper-thin wall with, for instance, a loud family room television, adding batt wall insulation for new homes, or blown-in insulation for existing homes, will help blanket sounds and temper vibrations.

For homes that face busy roadways, insulated vinyl siding is another solution. Look for options made with a premium, recycled-content vinyl siding panel permanently bonded with polystyrene (EPS) foam insulation. This wraps the home with continuous insulation to cover the entire exterior envelope — including wall studs where air and sound can penetrate.

Another quick fix for insulating the home office is to install a solid core wood or molded interior door. Many standard interior doors are hollow, which means that sounds pass through more easily. Solid core doors, which are thicker than hollow doors, act as a noise blocker. Once installed, make sure to surround the door with weather-stripping to fill any holes or gaps.

By keeping these tips in mind, you’ll be well on your way to creating a quiet home office retreat and defending your workspace from unwanted interruptions.



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4 reasons why a real estate franchise might be...

(BPT) - Small business has always been the backbone of the American economy, and today's entrepreneurs are as diverse as American culture itself. Entrepreneurship takes many forms, from freelancers and independent contractors to sole proprietors. In fact, just one form of entrepreneurship — franchises — employs 8 million people and accounts for 40 percent of all retail sales, according to the Small Business Administration.

Franchise operations come in many forms, from chain restaurants and retail stores to home services providers and real estate brokerages. In fact, the real estate franchise industry is a $25 billion marketplace and more than 55,000 Americans are employed as franchise owners, according to market research firm IBISWorld.

“Many real estate brokers have been making great livings as small business owners for a very long time,” says Adam Contos, co-CEO of RE/MAX LLC. “As franchise entrepreneurship continues to grow, we expect opportunities in real estate franchises to grow, too.”

Contos points to four reasons why a real estate franchise has always been, and continues to be, a great career option:

1. You can be your own boss.

The ability to work for oneself attracts many people to owning a small business. A real estate franchise allows you to nurture your entrepreneurial spirit. Franchisees get to set their own objectives and make business decisions about everything from where they’ll work (at home or in an office) to how they’ll market their business.

2. You can work for yourself but not by yourself.

Franchisors typically provide training, assistance and marketing support to franchisees. For example, billions of dollars have been spent promoting the RE/MAX brand with tools like property signs and outdoor advertising, TV, print and social media, and they are helping franchisees with professionally designed marketing materials, PR support, hands-on coaching and recruiting resources.

3. You don’t have to move for work — unless you want to.

Real estate agents usually specialize in an area that’s close to their own home. It’s easy to find opportunities in your own backyard, especially if you sign on with a franchisor that has numerous offices across the country. Living in the communities where you find business also allows you to develop a level of expertise about an area that can better serve both home buyers and sellers.

4. Your local business can have a global presence.

When your franchise is connected to a well-known brand like RE/MAX, your bread-and-butter business may be local but the brand’s name recognition can have global reach. By franchising with that brand, you can lean on its reputation, and that can open up opportunities beyond your local business.

To learn more about real estate franchise opportunities, visit www.remax-franchise.com.



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The savvy homeowner's 5-point outdoor...

(BPT) - As temperatures drop, you're reminded that Old Man Winter will soon rear his ugly head. Before the first flurries fly, it's important to take some winterization steps to ensure your home is ready for whatever the season brings.

This five-point checklist will help safeguard your home against winter's woes for another year. For additional winterization ideas and detailed project plans, visit Real Cedar.com.

Inspect windows

Inspect each window from the outside to see if any gaps or cracks are present. These small openings let in cold air and are also inviting to small critters looking for protection from the cold.

If you find some gaps, it’s important to seal them quickly. Apply caulk to the openings to prevent cold air from seeping in, helping to cut down on heating bills. Plus, you won’t have to worry about bugs making your home their hibernation haven. Note: never caulk above or below the window and door openings, as this may block moisture drainage.

Prep the deck

The amount of work you have to put into winterizing your deck depends on your decking material. For example, a durable, long-lasting material such as Western Red Cedar requires the least amount of maintenance. That said, all decks require some upkeep.

To preserve your deck’s luster, start by cleaning it with a warm, soapy solution and a soft-bristle brush. Do not power wash as this can damage the wood. It’s important that you remove all dirt and debris from the surface as well as in between the boards to improve ventilation.

Next, inspect the deck for mold. If present, wash the deck with a mild oxygen bleach solution and leave on the surface for 30 minutes before rinsing thoroughly. Finally, remove anything that might leave marks on the deck’s surface such as furniture, planters and mats.

Protect planter boxes

The majority of planter boxes are made with Western Red Cedar. That’s because the wood is naturally resistant to rot, decay and insects; and therefore, doesn’t require treatment from potentially dangerous chemicals that can leach into soil and plants. But like all garden beds, real cedar planters need protection during the winter months.

Start by removing all soil and cleaning the boxes as you did the deck. Then, if possible, store emptied planters in a garage, shed or under the porch. If you don't have the space to store them this way, then cover them with a water-repellent tarp to protect from moisture buildup, but don’t seal the tarp. As with decks, it’s very important that you allow for proper ventilation.

Trim trees

Look for weak trees or those with dead branches, particularly those near your home. As snow accumulates, the weight may bring down a tree or branches, potentially damaging your house.

Eliminate this risk by removing any dead trees or dangerous branches now before the first snow. Be safe by using the proper equipment for tree trimming and removal, or, consider hiring a pro to do so. Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and handling this issue now could prevent costly damage to your home down the road.

Clean the roof

Your roof is a large portion of your home, and it also holds a lot of snow over the winter. To prevent ice dams and other roof problems when freezing temperatures arrive, it's important to clean gutters and check your roof for problems now.

Start by taking all debris out of gutters to ensure free flow for water. Next, walk around your roof and inspect it for any damage. Repair loose shingles and make sure the chimney and vents look intact and secure. Your roof takes on a lot of weight from ice and snow during the winter months and you want it to be as strong as possible.

A few simple steps now can mean a cozy, safe winter for you and your entire family. Add these five steps to your winterization to-do list for this weekend and give yourself valuable peace of mind.



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Home smart home: Boost your home IQ with smart...

(BPT) - If you think a Jetsons-like home of the future is still a ways off, think again. Today’s smart home is here offering simple ways for consumers to operate their home, adding the ultimate in efficiency, convenience and enjoyment. It’s easier than you think to create a connected home that lets you operate devices throughout your kitchen, living room, laundry room and more — and you can do it all from the palm of your hand or with simple voice commands. In fact, some of your appliances might already be able to help you cook, clean and entertain in ways never thought possible.

Here are five things smart appliances can do to make your life easier right now:

1. Serve as your sous chef

Too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the broth, but one extra helper sure could make the food prep a lot easier. Consider the SmartThinQ app for LG appliances your sous chef and use it to tackle all those extra jobs that come with meal preparation.

It can preheat the oven at a designated time — perfect for when you’re sitting in traffic and need to have dinner ready in a pinch. Plus, it can download recipes and let you monitor the remaining cooking time from your phone — letting you enjoy time with your family without worrying about a burnt meal.

2. Help with housework

If you have a load of laundry in your LG TWINWash with SideKick, your phone can provide cycle status updates and alert you when the cycle is complete, helping to avoid forgotten laundry in your washer. Plus, you can even start or stop the cycle remotely when you’re out of the house.

3. Speed clean your home

Cleaning the oven may be one of the most mundane and dreaded tasks. Now with your smartphone you can easily start your oven’s EasyClean cycle from the palm of your hand, ensuring one of cleanup’s most difficult jobs is done while you're off enjoying life’s other adventures.

You can also use the app to start your robotic vacuum on your way home from work for a quick refresh or when you forget the in-laws are coming over for dinner.

4. Help you entertain effortlessly

Hosting a party or even a casual group of guests heightens the need to clean, but let’s be honest, there’s always a chore or two around the house that you run out of time to tackle. Your smart home can help save the day. While tackling another chore, simply use your smartphone app to tell your refrigerator to make more ice to save you a trip to the store. Or turn on your air purifier to rid the house of cooking smells or seasonal allergy culprits. Likewise, a quick touch of your phone allows you to control air conditioners in your home to set your place to the perfect temperature or adjust the temperature as guests come and go.

5. Remember your preferences

Do you ever wish your appliances knew what you were thinking? The more you use your smart appliances, the smarter they get by remembering usage habits and data to better anticipate your needs.

Home smart home

Gone are the days of wondering if you left the oven on when you leave the house or constantly checking on the laundry. Chores may be a mainstay, but with new ways to control your home, you no longer have to tackle them all on your own. Each of the examples above presents an opportunity for you to get more from your house with the touch of a button. And for added convenience, many of the latest smart appliances can also be controlled from other devices, like Google Home or Amazon Alexa. So let your touch or your voice be heard and get the most out of your appliances as efficiently as possible. You'll be glad you did.



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America's finest: 6 luxury home improvement...

(BPT) - Peruse any home improvement media and you may get the impression you just can’t build, renovate or decorate a quality home without relying on foreign-made products like granite from Italy for countertops, cherry hardwood flooring from Brazil or textiles from India. However, you don’t have to sacrifice quality and luxury in order to buy American for your home; some of the finest home decor products originate right here in the U.S.

Here are six of America’s finest domestically made products for the home:

ANN SACKS — Every tile in the company’s 14 MADE by ANN SACKS collections is handcrafted and produced in its Portland, Oregon, headquarters. Founded in 1981 by Ann Sacks, the company’s tile and stone products in unique patterns, shapes, sizes and glazes are favorites of homeowners and interior designers seeking top-quality luxury and beauty for their home designs. In addition to a repertoire of standard tiles, the company also has partnered with famous designers to create innovative luxury lines. They even create custom designs to help homeowners achieve a truly one-of-kind look in their homes.

The company is also a pioneer in another aspect of American culture: the focus on sustainable business practices. The company recycles all excess raw clay, uses only lead-free glazes, filters production waste water and uses only recycled and recyclable packaging for shipping products.

Stickley — Founded in 1900 by the Stickley brothers, the luxury furniture brand continues to conduct all its manufacturing in its Manlius, New York, factory. Their furniture is known for its beautiful wood construction, durability and meticulous attention to details.

Robern — Rooted in the belief that “your everyday routine should never feel ordinary,” Robern has been making innovative medicine cabinets, bathroom mirrors, vanities and lighting since 1968. From smart medicine cabinets with features like touch-dimmable task lighting, magnetic storage and integrated USB outlets to wall mirrors with lights, audio and defogging capabilities, all products are still made in Bristol, Pennsylvania.

Bloomsburg Carpet — Founded in 1976 to produce quality, luxurious carpet, Bloomsburg Carpet weaves all its carpets in Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna Valley. Third-generation weavers produce Axminster, Velvet and Wilton carpets under one roof. The company weaves with raw, sustainable fibers that it describes as “ecologically friendly and readily renewable.”

Viking — Founded in 1987, Viking produces professional-quality ranges and refrigerators at four manufacturing facilities in Leflore County, Mississippi. The company’s products are favorites of both professionals and home chefs.

Thomasville Bedding Company — The company that began over 40 years ago in a one-room building now occupies 36,000 square feet of factory and showroom space in Thomasville, Georgia. In addition to offering a wide selection of mattress styles, the company is also one of the few remaining bedding makers who will manufacture a custom set to fit any size bed.

You don’t have to sacrifice the pride of buying American to find the luxury, quality and customization you desire for your home decor. Purchasing quality American-made products is an investment that can deliver high returns in beauty, durability and satisfaction.



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Home improvement insight: 5 tips to redesign...

(BPT) - Smart homeowners take a strategic approach to home improvement projects such as redoing a playroom, living room or bedroom to keep kids' safety in mind during the redesign process.

By being proactive today, you can ensure your entire family can safely enjoy the results of your home improvement project. Here are the top five things to keep in mind to create a stunning yet safe space for your family:

Window coverings

Corded window coverings are a Top 5 Hidden Hazard in American homes, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Dangling or accessible cords on window coverings can pose an accidental strangulation hazard to infants and young children. The Window Covering Safety Council recommends only cordless window coverings or window coverings with inaccessible cords be used in homes with small kids.

Consumers can easily identify products best suited for homes with young children by looking for the Best for Kids certification label on the packaging of a large variety of products. Window covering products that qualify for “Best for Kids” either have no cords or inaccessible cords. In order to be eligible for this certification, manufacturers must submit their products for third-party testing to determine if they meet the Best for Kids program criteria. (See windowcoverings.org for additional information.)

Electrical

Electrical updates should always be made with curious kids in mind. It's easy to update outlet covers to sliding plug options. With these you never have to worry about replacing the outlet plug again because it closes automatically when not in use.

Larger electrical enhancements can help as well. Streamline the aesthetic of your space while eliminating cords by updating wall lighting. For example, a few sconces might replace reading lights, plus they're high enough to keep out of reach of young kids. Another example: a new dimmable ceiling fan provides safe air circulation with customizable light output.

Smart home upgrades

Technology is a home improvement game-changer that can make spaces more livable and safe. Smart window and door locks can be installed throughout the home. Kids can now securely enter without a key and parents are sent an alert at that time. You can also set alerts for windows left open so you know to close them to reduce fall risks.

Another smart home improvement to consider: motion-activated sensors. These sensors can be placed anywhere you don't want children to be. For example, when your child opens the front door before you wake or he tries to get into the medicine cabinet, you're sent an alert to your phone that makes you immediately aware of the activity.

Furniture and decor

That vintage armoire will look perfect in your just-redone space ... until your kids start to pull out the drawers and roughhouse around it. Tip-overs are another Top 5 Hidden Hazard by the CPSC, which notes in the U.S. a child is sent to the emergency room every 30 minutes as a result of falling furniture.

Furniture, TVs and appliances can tip over and crush children, so take an extra step to keep kids safe. Always stabilize furniture, decor and any other items that could fall over. Safety anchors and brackets are widely available online and at retail home improvement stores. They are quick and easy to install and may save a life. (See www.anchorit.gov for additional information.)

Interior paint

Painting a room is one of the most affordable yet dramatic ways to refresh a space. However, not all paint is created equal. To maintain high indoor air quality and a safe area for curious kids, be a selective shopper with interior paint.

Before you select your hue, research paints that are appropriate for children. Look for zero-VOC (volatile organic compound) labels and environmentally friendly options. When in doubt, ask at the paint counter which paints are best for sensitive family members.

You'll love your updated home even more when you can trust it is safe for you and your children. With these simple tips you can create a space that is secure, stylish and safe for all.



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5 myths about solar panels, debunked

(BPT) - Home solar panels can drastically cut or even eliminate electricity bills, reduce a home’s carbon footprint, increase resale value, and may even help a home sell faster.

The cost of rooftop solar systems has fallen dramatically in recent years, and most homeowners have the option of buying the system, leasing it on reasonable payment terms, or having a third-party pay for and install the system at no up-front cost at all for the homeowner. Plus, home solar systems are eligible for federal tax credits.

All of this explains why the number of homeowners installing solar has sky-rocketed across America. Nevertheless, many homeowners remain skeptical about taking control of their energy use and installing solar. Why? The various myths that still persist around solar power could be the reason.

“Solar technology has been around for a long time, but even though it’s entered the mainstream, many homeowners are still skeptical,” says renewable energy expert Roger Ballentine, president of Green Strategies, a leading Washington-based consulting firm. “That’s because a number of myths persist, pointing to the need for better consumer education about the benefits of home solar installations.”

Ballentine points to private and government studies providing real information that debunks the myths surrounding solar power. For example, research by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found solar panels help homes sell faster and for more money than those without solar.

If you’re considering installing a solar panel system on your home, here are five common myths — and why you shouldn’t believe them:

Myth 1: Solar panels only work if you live in a warm, sunny climate.

While solar panels work best when they get a lot of sun, a lack of bright sun doesn’t mean they’re not working. Panels can still absorb ambient sunlight, even on cloudy days or in regions that get less bright sun. What’s more, today’s solar panels are more energy efficient than ever. Newer systems like the “LG NeOn R” maximize sunlight absorption and generate the maximum possible output — as much as 26 percent more than other comparably sized solar panels. This higher efficiency means that solar panels can work in virtually any climate and every season.

Myth 2: You need a lot of roof space for solar panels.

Just like other amazing technologies (think microchips), solar panels are getting smaller, more powerful and more efficient. High-efficiency panels take up less space because fewer panels are required to produce the electricity needed to power your home. So even a smaller home could have enough roof space to fit the number of panels needed to generate the necessary power and save you money.

Myth 3: Installation is a long, drawn-out hassle.

While adding solar panels to your home isn’t a DIY project, installation usually takes only a day or two. New models streamline the process further, eliminating the need to install a separate inverter. Most solar panels require a separate inverter to bring electricity into your house, but new panels from LG, for instance, incorporate the inverter, simplifying and accelerating the installation process.

Myth 4: If something goes wrong, you’re on your own.

As with any major investment in your home, you should make sure you understand the manufacturer and installer warranties for your solar panels, including how long the coverage lasts and what types of problems are covered. One leading solar player, LG, even offers an industry-leading, 25-year product and power warranty. And unlike a furnace or an air conditioning system, a solar installation has no moving parts to wear out and typically requires little maintenance and repair.

Myth 5: Solar panels will look big, bulky and ugly on your roof.

Solar panels are becoming smaller, sleeker and more aesthetically pleasing. Higher-efficiency models are also offering increased flexibility of configuration. Instead of having to cover an entire roof with panels in a specific arrangement in order to generate power, modern options allow you to arrange panels to meet your sense of aesthetics.

Adding solar power to a home offers homeowners many benefits, from reducing energy costs, to increasing the value of your home and helping the environment, Ballentine says. “Overall, it’s a decision most homeowners feel positively about once they’ve made it.” The NREL notes in its study: “Buyers of homes with (solar panel) systems are more satisfied than are comparison buyers. A significantly higher percentage ... indicate they would buy the same houses again.”



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5 DIY home upgrades anyone can do in a day

(BPT) - (BPT) - Do-it-yourself home projects are sweeping the nation, and it’s easy to see why. DIY is typically budget-friendly and fulfilling to complete; simply find the right project to match your skill set and needs.

To get started, here are five inexpensive projects that can by tackled by any DIYer, each of which will have an impact on the entire home.

* Make a hardware swap. Replacing your kitchen cabinets changes the entire look of your kitchen — but it’s expensive and requires considerable skill. For a simpler, smaller project that can still have a big impact, replace the hardware on your cabinets instead. Select the hardware type first — knobs for doors and pulls for drawers, for example — then move on to style. Crisp, sleek hardware goes best with a modern kitchen, while more detailed offerings work well with classic, traditional kitchens.

* Refresh your space with a fresh coat of paint. Repainting a wall or room is the perfect way to showcase your style, without breaking the bank. The Unity palette from Sherwin-Williams® 2018 Colormix Forecast offers unique color choices that pair together perfectly, making it easy for homeowners to create a cohesive look in their space. Try going bold with pops of peacock on an accent wall, such as Sherwin-Williams 2018 Color of the Year, Oceanside SW 6496, or you use the palette’s grounded browns to put a new spin on traditional hues. It’s easy to recreate a space that reflects who you are, without making expensive renovations.

* Illuminate a simple change. It doesn’t always take a huge change to reinvent a room; it can be as easy as changing the light fixture. You could choose to repaint your existing chandelier, or you could give your ceiling fan a new look by replacing the blades. If you’re on the crafty side, try making your own shade for an existing lamp with some of your favorite fabric.

* Invite people to your gallery. Can’t decide on the one perfect image for your wall? Then why not go for several? Gallery walls are a great way to show your favorite prints and photos artistically. Pick the wall and apply a fresh coat of paint before building your gallery — after all, this wall will now be part of the exhibit. Once the wall is ready, pick your photos or prints and set them in frames you love. Now the fun part lay your works of art on an open floor space and rearrange them until you find the perfect layout. Once you’ve found it, grab your hammer and nails and bring your gallery wall to life.

* Bring a new vibe to your existing furniture. If a chair or love seat is starting to show its age, reupholstering it is a great way to give the piece fresh life. Remove the current fabric and replace it with new fabric of your choosing. Apply staples or stitching to hold the new fabric in place, and that old piece of furniture will have a distinctive new look.



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Upping your laundry room's wow factor

(BPT) - Doing the laundry is no longer relegated to dark, musty basements where no one cares to go. Thanks to modern technology, great design and access to innovative ideas online, laundry rooms have moved upstairs and come into their own. In fact, laundry rooms today are right up there with dream kitchens and dream bathrooms — and the more style, function and “wow factor,” the better.

“Laundry rooms are no longer just utilitarian,” said Anitra Mecadon, TV personality and award-winning interior designer. “People want stylish, healthy environments where they can relax, multitask and have some fun while doing the laundry.”

Below are four ways Mecadon recommends to ramp up the wow factor, function and allure of your laundry room:

* High-tech appliances

When looking for washers and dryers today, there are more features than you can imagine. You should consider your needs and desires before starting your search — and we’re talking about more than gas or electric, front- or top-loading, color, budget and space parameters. Today’s “smart” appliances offer custom wash cycles, wrinkle removal, steam cleaning, less noise, delayed start times, moisture sensors with allergen and sanitize cycles and more. There’s even a machine that washes two separate loads with different setting options at the same time. And nearly every machine today is Energy Star-certified for energy efficiency.

* Loads of style

Laundry rooms today can be decorated to complement other rooms in your home — and Pinterest and Houzz offer loads of pictures online to spark your creativity. Laundry rooms can be country French to modern, whimsical to multifunctional — and it’s not unusual to see them in bold or soothing colors, with comfy chairs, statement lighting, flat-screen TVs and docking stations to play music or charge tablets and phones. They also can include windows to let in natural light. If you think white and stainless are your only color options, think again. They can be turquoise, burnt orange, glacial blue, fire engine red, kelly green and even black stainless.

* Function galore

Washing and drying are only part of doing the laundry. There’s sorting, folding, hanging and ironing — and each of those steps needs its own space, supplies and storage. Baskets for sorting and carrying laundry can be wicker, plastic or wood and stored for all to see or out of sight. Counters for folding can be granite, marble, quartz, butcher block or laminate, and many people put them over their washers and dryers as well as around the room. Drying racks made of ladders or upcycled cribs can be creative and functional. Ironing boards can be stand-alone, foldable and stored in cabinets or retractable and out of sight. Washers and dryers can be big or small, stacked or all in one — and even put on pedestals.

* High-performance drywall

When laundry was relegated to the basement, part of the dread of doing laundry was the thought of being surrounded by dampness, mold and mildew — sometimes from washing machine water hose failure causing mold to grow within the wall cavity. Because your washer and dryer introduce water, moisture and heat into the room, it’s important to use drywall with extra protection for your laundry room walls and ceilings — such as moisture-, mold- and mildew-resistant PURPLE XP drywall by National Gypsum. PURPLE XP — which stands for "Xtra Protection" — products are GREENGUARD Gold Certified for indoor air quality, while aiding in the creation of healthier indoor environments.

“I love that prettier and more functional laundry rooms are becoming places people want to hang out and do laundry, but it’s important to think about what’s behind all that style and function — and that’s their walls,” said Mecadon. “Walls and what they’re made of are important and they’re not all the same.”

For more information, go to www.AskForPurple.com.



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Quick tips to prepare your home for holiday guests

(BPT) - As the holidays approach, the decorator in us gets excited about how to deck the halls and drape the tinsel to create a festive home for the season. Social media is full of inspiration, but before you embark on decorating projects, the following are a few easy ideas to ensure your home is as functional and welcoming as it is festive for family and friends.

'Tis the season to repair, repaint, refresh

A pristine paint job is the perfect backdrop for holiday entertaining. Throughout the year, the walls of your home take a lot of abuse, from kids banging their toys into the corners and chairs hitting the walls, to the nail holes and cracks that appear over time. To restore your walls to their former glory, fill in those dents, holes and cracks before you repaint with ALEX Plus Spackling, which delivers professional strength and durability when making repairs on a range of surfaces such as drywall, wood and metal. If you have troublesome reoccurring cracks that just won’t go away, ALEX Flex Spackling is the perfect solution for a lasting, seamless repair. And for the ultimate professional finish, use ALEX Flex Premium Molding & Trim Sealant to fill gaps and cracks around interior window and door frames and along baseboards, chair rails and crown molding for a crack-proof, seamless finish. With your walls repaired and looking like new, you’re now ready to paint and decorate for a fresh, updated look.

Create a safe, cozy area for fireside chats

A warm, roaring fire is a cozy centerpiece for after-dinner storytelling and catching up with family and friends. Whether your home is equipped with a gas or wood-burning fireplace, it is important to ensure the unit is in good working order. First, inspect the area and repair any damage to key pieces, such as the baffle, damper or mantle, that may have occurred during the year. Next, schedule a time for a thorough chimney sweeping to remove excess buildup of soot and creosote. A clean, maintained fireplace not only makes for a festive environment, but can also serve as an element to heat your home, reducing seasonal stress on your furnace.

Corral guest clutter in your main living areas

There’s nothing like visiting with old friends or reconnecting with family members you haven’t seen in a while. Of course, with the increased foot traffic in and out of your home comes the question of where to put your guests' belongings so they are out of the way and organized. If you have a coat closet, be sure to clean it out and make room for your guests by storing your coats in another room. You might also consider using an additional coat rack and strategically placing some festive decorative baskets for holding shoes and purses.

Create a kid-friendly space

If you plan on hosting friends and family members who have small children, take some time to kid-proof your home, particularly anywhere they are likely to play. Along with putting plug covers on all of the outlets, remove any common hazards young kids might get into. Secure electrical and window treatment cords, protect hard-edged furniture and put breakables out of reach. Once the groundwork for a safe, kid-friendly space is cleared, add toys, games, comfy pillows and more, so they’re entertained and feel welcome.

Prepare the outdoors, too

When it comes to prepping for holiday guests, don’t forget about high-traffic areas outside the home. Be sure to clear the walkways of any snow and ice and replace outdoor lights with fresh bulbs to help guests safely navigate their way to your home.

These quick and easy preparations will help you and your guests feel more at home, setting the stage for all to enjoy the festivities and fun of the season.



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Easy winter weatherproofing: Keep the chill out...

(BPT) - Households heating with natural gas, which is almost half of U.S. homes, are expected to spend an average of $635 on heating this winter — 22 percent more than last winter, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration — but some easy seasonal maintenance tips can make a big difference.

“There are several simple, inexpensive ways consumers can save money on utility bills this winter, and still stay warm and comfortable as temperatures begin to drop,” said Jill Murphy, a home heating and energy efficiency expert with Lennox Industries. “By taking the initiative to weatherproof their home before the start of the cold-weather season, homeowners will be able to enjoy a warmer and more energy-efficient house.”

To help consumers combat high utility bills and achieve optimum indoor comfort this winter, Murphy and Lennox suggest a few easy tips for staying safe, dry and comfortable as the cold comes:

The attic. The attic is one of the biggest culprits when it comes to heat loss. Without adequate attic insulation, your heating system will have to work harder and will be less effective as it tries to maintain a warm temperature in the home. Statistics show that older homes, especially those built before 1980, often don’t have enough insulation.

Windows and doors. Air leaks caused by cracks or holes around windows and doors can enable warm indoor air to escape and cold outside air to seep in, preventing you from maintaining a consistent indoor temperature. Murphy suggests sealing cracks with caulk or weather stripping.

Exterior walls. It’s also important to look for cracks and holes around the perimeter of your home. To identify air leaks in outside-facing walls, try holding a candle near suspect areas to reveal drafts and then seal leaks with caulk or weather stripping.

Fireplace and chimney. To prevent warm indoor air from escaping the home, Murphy also reminds homeowners to keep fireplace dampers closed when not in use; however, always make sure the damper is fully opened before starting a fire. You also should inspect the chimney cap to ensure that the chimney won’t have a smoke or water leak when you fire it up this winter.

Heating system. Keeping your heating system running efficiently is the most significant way to reduce utility bills and stay warm this winter. To reduce the potential for a breakdown in the middle of winter, Murphy recommends having your furnace inspected by certified technicians before old man winter arrives, and consider replacing a system that is more than 15 years old.

Programmable thermostats. To further maximize savings on your heating bills, Murphy recommends installing a smart thermostat, such as the Lennox iComfort E30, which works with Amazon Alexa smart home devices and is compatible with any brand of HVAC system.

The roof. The roof is your home’s first defense against falling rain, ice and snow, so it’s important to inspect it to make sure shingles are in place to prevent water from seeping inside the house. If large gaps are found, hire a professional roofing company to repair the problem areas.

By making a few minor adjustments around the house, homeowners can help alleviate safety concerns and reduce the amount of wasted energy, all while staying comfortable during the chilly season. To learn more about home energy efficiency and how to save money on utility bills, visit https://www.lennox.com or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Lennox.



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5 tips to clean your home - and save the planet

(BPT) - Log onto almost any news website and in just a few clicks you’ll probably come across some story about the environment. Whether it involves international agreements, alternative energy sources or fuel-efficient cars, the discussion is often abstract and far removed from our everyday lives.

Consumers want to know what they can do and how they can contribute to making a cleaner, greener planet.

Minor changes can make a significant difference, particularly with cleaning your home. You can trade in harsh chemicals and wasteful cleaning products for sustainable methods that are just as clean, if not cleaner. Here are five ways you can clean your home the eco-friendly way.

1. Your own all-purpose cleaner. One of the easiest solutions is to make your own all-purpose cleaner. This effective solution only requires three ingredients: Two cups of distilled water, half a cup of white vinegar and 10 to 20 drops of your favorite essential oil. Mix all the ingredients into a spray bottle and voila! The vinegar is a natural antifungal that effectively kills germs and bacteria, and an essential oil like lavender will leave your house smelling great.

2. A cleaner way to mop. Unfortunately, many of the most effective ways to sweep and mop are also incredibly wasteful, requiring you to use a new disposable pad with each cleaning. The new O-Cedar ProMist MAX Microfiber Spray Mop features a reusable microfiber mop head that can be machine washed up to 100 times. Plus, the reusable bottle allows you to clean with any solution you choose — whether you DIY or buy your favorite brand. Its double-sided mop head flips and covers a surface area that is over twice the size of the previous version.

3. A sparkling toilet. Many of the harshest products under your counter are probably there to get your toilet sparkling clean. But you don’t need chlorine or bleach to disinfect your toilet and leave it looking like new. Instead, once or twice a week, pour a few tablespoons of baking soda into the bowl and scrub it with a toilet brush. In addition, make a toilet cleaner out of one ounce of eucalyptus oil — a natural disinfectant — and a quart of water.

4. Want clean air? Think green, literally. Especially in the winter, smells around your house can become stagnant and it can be a real challenge to chase them away. One of the most effective and visually pleasing ways to freshen up your air quality is with selective house plants, such as:

* Rubber plants thrive in rooms that don’t get much sunlight.

* Boston ferns are some of the best indoor plants for removing pollutants such as formaldehyde.

* Peace lilies are one of the few flowering indoor plants. As such, they bring a little spring to your room and naturally remove VOCs and more from the air.

5. Castile soap. In certain sectors, castile soap enjoys a virtual cult following. This olive oil-based soap is incredibly versatile and can be used as a furniture polish, window cleaner, dish soap and more. Best of all, most varieties you find in stores are all natural and free of toxins.

Though many of the environmental issues we read about may seem like insurmountable obstacles, it is possible to make a difference just by changing how you clean your house.



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3 important areas to focus on when winterizing...

(BPT) - From the holidays to cold-weather fun like ice skating and skiing, winter promises its share of good times. Preparing your home for winter’s weather extremes can help ensure that you get the maximum enjoyment out of the season, while protecting your home’s vital systems and indoor comfort.

“Winter weather can take a toll on homes, so it’s important to take steps to protect systems like HVAC and plumbing before cold weather arrives,” says Emily Lewicki, brand manager with Luxaire(R). “Properly winterizing your home can help keep it more comfortable, prevent damage from cold and ice, improve efficiency and help reduce heating bills.”

Lewicki recommends vital winterization steps to get your home ready for the season:

1. Prepare your gas furnace.

During the summer, you probably didn’t think much about your furnace, but as winter approaches it’s important to make sure all elements of your home’s heating system are in top working order. If you haven’t already scheduled a professional service appointment for your furnace, now is the time. A professional technician is best equipped to ensure that furnaces are ready for winter.

Meanwhile, steps you can do yourself include:

* Remove any items that might have gotten stored near the furnace during the summer. Likewise, make sure air returns and vents are clean and not blocked by furniture or other items.

* Change the air filter. If you have trouble remembering when it’s time to replace filters, try setting reminders on your smartphone according to the furnace manufacturer’s recommended schedule.

* Update your thermostat’s programming to reflect your winter schedule. If you don’t have a programmable thermostat, consider installing one; a properly programmed thermostat can reduce energy bills up to $180 a year, according to the ENERGYSTAR.gov website.

If your current furnace is more than 10 years old and frequently needs repair, consider replacing it before winter gets into full swing. Extreme cold can make a worn furnace work harder and possibly fail altogether when you need it most. High-efficiency gas furnaces like a Luxaire(R) Acclimate(TM) gas furnace can help ensure that you’re never without heat during the winter, while also saving money on utility bills. These ENERGY STAR qualified furnaces are 15 to 25 percent more energy efficient than standard models, meaning they require less fuel to keep your home at a comfortable temperature.

2. Protect windows and doors.

Up to a third of the heat lost from an average home escapes through windows and doors, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Before winter arrives, take these steps to protect windows and doors from air leaks, drafts and heat loss:

* Check weather stripping on doors and caulking around windows. If any are damaged or worn, replace them.

* Install storm windows to further reduce drafts.

* Use temporary measures like draft dodgers along the base of doors and removable insulation kits over windows to help keep cold air out and warm air inside.

3. Manage pipes and water sources.

Extremely low temperatures can cause water pipes to burst, causing a loss of water and possibly extensive damage to your home if flooding occurs. Uninsulated pipes can also cause heat loss, which increases energy costs.

To minimize winter’s impact on pipes and other water-related systems, take these steps:

* Place insulation on exposed pipes that carry hot water, especially if they are warm or hot to the touch. The Department of Energy says insulating pipes can increase water temperature by 2 to 4 degrees, allowing you to lower the setting on your water heater to conserve energy.

* Have outdoor water supplies like irrigation systems professionally drained and winterized to prevent freezing and costly damage.

* Flush the water heater to remove particles and sediment that collects inside the unit over time, hindering its efficiency. If you don’t have a gas-powered water heater, you can wrap it with insulation to improve its efficiency.

Finally, check on your home’s insulation in key areas like attics and basements. If your home needs more insulation, or the insulation you have is in bad shape, add more before winter arrives. The Insulation Institute offers an online guide to help you understand how much insulation you need.

“Winterizing is the best way to protect your home from cold-related damage, and ensure your home’s heating system operates at maximum efficiency throughout cold weather,” Lewicki says.



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7 projects to help your home weather the winter...

(BPT) - If chilly temperatures make you want to snuggle under a blanket in front of a roaring fire, just think about your poor water pipes that can’t escape the cold. You can’t wrap your home in a warm, protective blanket when winter arrives, but a few winterization steps can help ensure your home weathers the winter safely and efficiently.

“Winterizing is definitely an important way to protect a home from the ravages of snow, ice and harsh temperatures, but it’s also an opportunity to boost a home’s energy efficiency,” says Chris Williams, merchandising director at Lowe's. “Some of the easiest and most effective winterization projects can also contribute to energy savings throughout the year.”

Here are seven projects to improve energy efficiency and prepare your home for winter:

Inside

* Protect pipes — Any plumbing pipes that run through uninsulated areas such as a crawl space or attic are at risk for freezing if temperatures plummet. Seal any cracks or openings where pipes exit the home, and fit unprotected pipes with pipe sleeves. Insulating pipes can reduce heat loss that makes your water heater work harder and use more energy, and raise the water temperature 2 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

* Add weather stripping to doors and windows — If your home is drafty, adding weather stripping to seal air leaks can reduce heating bills as much as 20 percent, the DOE says. Identify places where air leaks occur in your home, and choose the right weather stripping for each area.

* Caulk around windows and doors — Air can also leak through minute cracks around windows and doors. Sealing such cracks with caulk further reduces the air leaks that make your furnace work harder and your home feel drafty.

* Add insulation — Insulation can make your home stay warmer in winter and cooler in summer, and help your heating and cooling systems work more efficiently. How much insulation your home needs depends on factors such as where you live, how old the home is and how well it was insulated to begin with. If you’re unsure how much insulation your home needs, check out the Energy Star insulation guide.

Outside

* Protect outdoor plumbing — Whether you have an outdoor shower or a simple hose connection, it’s important to protect outdoor plumbing from freezing. Water freezing in outdoor pipes can cause severe damage and costly water leaks. Turn off water flow to outdoor pipes and flush the water from the system. Remove and store garden hoses for the winter. If you spot any cracks or problems, take care of them right away. Finally, add insulation, such as a hose bib cover to outdoor faucets.

* Prepare the lawn for winter — A healthy lawn requires less watering and work in spring than one that’s been ravaged by winter’s rigors. Keep grass mowed until it stops growing, and rake leaves and grass clippings to maximize sun exposure for grass. Mulch around plants and trees to protect them against harsh weather and freezing temperatures.

* Clean windows — Sunlight is a natural, cost-effective way to help keep your home warmer during winter. Opening drapes and blinds can maximize the amount of sun that enters a room and help warm it. However, dirty windows can reduce the amount of sunlight that gets through the glass. Plus, clean windows will help make your home feel brighter and lighter during the darkest days of winter.

For more energy-saving winterization ideas, visit www.lowes.com.



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Insulation can help protect homes from flooding

(BPT) - Hurricane season is in full swing, and thousands of homeowners across the southern U.S. and Puerto Rico have been hit by mammoth hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

The cost of damages that occur in hurricanes or intense tropical storms making landfall in the U.S. each year numbers in the billions. Heavy rain, storm surges and coastal flooding can all contribute to the destruction of homes and other buildings.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), flooding accounts for more than $3.5 billion in insurance claims annually. Flood waters due to storm surge, underperforming drainage or broken levees can induce physical deterioration of the building structure; perpetuate mold growth; contain contaminants, corrosive dissolved salts and/or raw sewage; saturate insulation and wallboard, carpets and furniture as well as contribute toward respiratory problems, allergies, infection and irritation of the eyes and skin.

In the aftermath of a hurricane, concentrated efforts are made to clean up and get families back in their homes. Repair work to replace damaged wood and drywall can help the home look like new, but what about the building materials behind the walls? Traditional insulation materials like fiberglass and cellulose insulate the typical family home from the heat and cold. However, it is not the primary function of traditional insulation to protect against flooding. So, when this occurs, insulation offers virtually no impediment to rising floodwaters. Traditional insulation often becomes laden with moisture and is usually unable to dry out quick enough to withstand damage. If not completely removed during the clean-up process, excess moisture leads to the potential for mold growth.

FEMA has identified flood-resistant building materials ideal for use in the reconstruction or repair of a building impacted by a hurricane and flooding. Building materials FEMA has identified include corrosion-resistant coated steel, pressure-treated wood, epoxy formed-in-place flooring as well as closed-cell spray foam insulation. These products fall into Class 4 or Class 5 of FEMA’s flood damage-resistance classification system. For FEMA to consider a building material to be flood-resistant, it must be able to withstand direct contact with floodwater for an extended period (72 hours) of time.

Closed-cell spray foam insulation, like that available from Icynene, quickly becomes rigid and adds structural integrity. Applied in areas such as the basement or crawlspace, it can help reduce the risk of significant damage that hurricanes and the resulting floodwaters can cause. This is due to closed-cell spray foam insulation’s ability to reject bulk water ingress.

Spray foam insulation can also help play an important role in maintaining a comfortable temperature year round while helping to control monthly expenses. Thanks to spray foam insulation’s air-sealing qualities, homeowners can reduce the size of their heating and cooling equipment since less effort is required to heat or cool the home.

With the increase in the intensity of hurricanes over the past 30 years, having a home insulated with closed-cell spray foam insulation can be an effective way to ensure you are better prepared for the next hurricane season. More information can be found at Icynene.com.



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Roof repair: Mind the gaps, banish the squirrels

(BPT) - Cold can aggravate a roof issue and quickly turn minor defects into costly repair bills; in fact, the latest “Cost vs. Value” report from Remodeling Magazine estimates the average roofing replacement costs over $20,000.

So, whether you’ve already noticed signs of wear on your roof or just want more “overhead” peace of mind, pay special attention to two seemingly small aspects of the roof that homeowners often overlook:

Gaps: Seal it, patch it

Be sure to check for any gaps around gutters, skylights and roofing vents then utilize the correct caulking, patching and sealants. Sealing these areas can keep out moisture and reduce heating costs – and many sealants are especially designed to adhere directly onto exterior surfaces. Even the tiniest cracks and gaps can allow moisture to enter, not to mention rodents, squirrels and other unwelcome varmints.

Pipes: Don’t leave a welcome mat for squirrels

Roof venting pipes are another area to closely inspect. One of the more common roof problems involves cracked rooftop venting pipes made with cheap lead tops as they corrode over time. To make matters worse, squirrels and other critters are known to relentlessly chew their way into a home via these thin pipe flashings as the lead entices these unwelcome varmints to gnaw at them, thus providing interior access for damaging rain, snow and more pests once whittled away.

“Squirrel infestation is a very big problem throughout many areas of the United States, especially older homes,” explains Amanda Williams, marketing manager at Quarrix. “This is exactly why we developed a durable, lead-free and easy-to-install vent pipe flashing called Pipe Boot that simply slides over the existing vent, nails into place, and then twists securely to form a weather-tight seal.” With Pipe Boot, no specialty installation tools are needed as the telescoping sleeve allows for varying pipe sizes and can withstand frigid winter temperatures via a patented design.

Enlist the pros quickly when there’s trouble

Waiting too long to call in a certified professional can lead to bigger issues. For example, squirrels quickly reproduce and can potentially gnaw on electrical wiring or crawl into difficult-to-reach wall spaces, making extraction a nightmare. It’s a wise move to seek out a reputable roofing specialist, especially when dealing with roof damage from weather or critters, or both.

The roof is no place to cut corners, and no matter the season, even seemingly minor roofing issues can put your home and valuables at risk. For a thorough seasonal roof maintenance checklist, visit: Quarrix.com/Checklist or call 800-438-2920.



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It's time: Signs your heating system needs...

(BPT) - Temperatures are falling, pumpkin spice everything has reappeared and stores have already put out holiday displays — all signs that winter is either on the way, or already here, depending on where you live. If you haven’t already had your heating system tuned up, now is the time.

Neglect is a top cause of heating system inefficiency and failure, according to ENERGYSTAR.gov. Proper maintenance can help ensure your system works as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible throughout the winter. Failing to care for your heating system now could leave you without heat or with hefty emergency repair bills if the system breaks down during very cold weather.

A tune-up is an inexpensive way to ensure heating equipment is operating properly, and provides peace of mind that no potentially harmful blockage exists in a flue or exhaust vent. While it’s best to service a heating system before the cold weather arrives, it’s also never too late to perform routine maintenance.

According to the home repair experts at HomeServe USA, a typical professional heating system tune-up will include:

* Inspect safety features and controls

* Check thermostats (including adjustment if needed)

* Inspect burners (with adjustments if necessary)

* Check and clean the pilot light

* Check and clean any gauges

* Flush low-water cutoff

* Inspect filters, belts, oil motors, pumps and condensate line (if applicable)

* Check the flue pipe and chimney draft

* Inspect and clean the blower assembly

A thorough tune-up before the heating season starts can help reduce the risk of a problem in the dead of winter, but you should still be aware of your system’s performance. Symptoms that may warrant having a professional check the system include:

* The system takes a long time to warm the house after the furnace comes on.

* You hear unusual noises when the furnace turns on.

* You’ve noticed an unusual amount of dust coming from heating vents.

* The system cycles constantly.

* The burner flame is yellow or flickering. The flame should be blue in natural gas furnaces; a yellow flame means the unit is not burning efficiently and may even be producing harmful carbon monoxide.

* You notice your heating bills have increased more than you would reasonably expect given the temperature outside.

* You experience excessive moisture building up on windows, walls and other cold surfaces.

* You find visual evidence, such as streaks of soot around the furnace, rusting on flue pipes or pipe connections or the vent pipe visible from outside the home, or water leaking from the base of the chimney, vent or flue pipe.

If you act quickly at the first sign of a problem, you may be able to avoid a costly and potentially dangerous failure of your heating system. For more information about why you should schedule a tune-up, visit www.nationaltuneupday.com.

HomeServe offers home heating protection plans, including ones that cover tune-ups. A 24-hour repair hotline ensures plan holders can be connected with local, licensed and insured technicians 365 days a year. Visit www.HomeServeUSA.com to learn more.



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Barn doors go indoors: An ideal winter project

(BPT) - Known for their versatility, barn doors have been popping up in homes across the country — in contemporary and rustic designs. Read on to discover why adding a barn door is an ideal winter home-improvement project.

Transitions in open floor plans

As homeowners seek more open floor plans, interior doors are evolving. Barn doors meet homeowners’ desire for fluid room flows by seamlessly connecting adjacent rooms, allowing the flexibility to close spaces off or join them.

“The rolling feature of barn doors creates a fresh look in any home,” says Brad Loveless, product development manager for Simpson Door Company. “The functionality of a door mounted on a barn track allows homeowners to control the degree to which spaces are opened or closed.” Unlike conventional hinge-mounted doors, barn doors open previously divided rooms with an air of intentionality.

Showcasing style and personality

Like a distinctive piece of art in the home, the right interior door can showcase a homeowner’s style and personality. An unexpected door style creates a great discussion point when entertaining friends and family. Is your home lacking a statement piece that inspires creativity and sparks conversation? You may find that a barn door is a simple solution to this problem with its eye-catching rolling feature.

Adaptable to changing style trends

Do you ever worry that the sweater you bought last week will be out of style in a year or two? Are you a trend skeptic since the bell-bottom era? (If those can go out of style, anything can, right?) These farmyard-meets-indoors statement pieces have actually been around for over a decade. Today you’ll find barn doors with a modern, sleek look, rustic wood paneling or even made with a chalkboard.

Barn doors are available from several companies. For homeowners who like the look and feel of wood doors, Simpson Door Company offers rustic-style barn doors, as well as sleek, contemporary doors that can be mounted on barn track hardware.

Why now?

Adding a barn door while you’re stuck inside for the cold months makes an immediate visual difference in your home and can provide a scenic backdrop for holiday photos.



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4 things you might not know about DIY home...

(BPT) - With the holiday season approaching, you may be thinking about giving your family the gift of home security — especially if you know you’ll be traveling over the holidays.

A growing number of homeowners are turning to do-it-yourself smart home security systems to address their security concerns. Installing your own home security system can be well worth the investment; while the average system may cost hundreds of dollars to get started, monthly fees are low, and when a home security system is present, 60 percent of attempted burglaries fail, according to StatisticBrain.

Crime doesn't take a holiday

During the holidays, burglars know many families travel to visit distant loved ones. Plus, homes filled with gifts can be a treasure trove for thieves.

Here are ways DIY home security systems make it easy to keep your smart home safe and secure during the holiday season and throughout the year:

* Affordable and flexible — Professional monitoring of a smart home security system from traditional players and well-known brands can cost nearly $50 a month — and then lock you in for four years or longer. When you're already spending on holiday shopping and celebrations, the extra cost of monitoring can seem daunting. DIY systems typically offer the same components, such as security cameras, motion sensors and smart locks, without the costs and contracts of professional installation. Plus, you can still get affordable 24/7 monitoring; Iris by Lowe’s Professional Monitoring is $14.95 per month.

* Customizable for your needs — DIY home security systems typically offer starter packages that contain the basic components you need to set up a simple system in your home, such as a smart hub and sensors. Once installed, the smart system is scalable, and you can add products or solutions that meet your needs by just shopping at your favorite retailer — no need to call up a security company to come out to your house for an expensive visit. For example, Iris offers a catalog of more than 150 devices that pair with its smart hub, including cameras, motion sensors, locks, light switches, thermostats, smoke alarms and more. Whether you want to secure and monitor a door or window shielded from sight, or you want to turn lights on and off automatically to make your home look occupied while you're out, a smart home security system can do that.

* Mobile monitoring — Being able to monitor your home security system from your smartphone gives added peace of mind, and many DIY systems also provide apps that allow you to remotely control and monitor home systems. Whether you're out shopping and realize you forgot to arm the system, or visiting out-of-state relatives, you can manage your smart home security system as if you were at home.

* Smart home compatible — If you’re already using smart technologies like Google Home or an Amazon Echo smart speaker, these components may work with and even enhance your DIY home security system. Systems allow you to create a fully integrated smart home experience. For example, you can use the smart system’s mobile app to turn on lights and the home security alarm when you’re away from home and control it by voice when you are home.

To learn more about home automation and DIY security systems, visit www.irisbylowes.com.



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Insulation tips: Give your home its own winter...

(BPT) - In fall's natural progression toward hibernation and all things cozy, preparation for your house is often forgotten. Insulation for the home can seem intimidating, but don’t let that stop you from digging deeper. You’ll find that proper insulation is key for superior home comfort and increased energy savings. Read on for some information on why your home may need its own new coat this winter to help you stay warm.

Why is insulation important?

Two words: consistency and savings. First, insulation helps keep your home at a consistently comfortable temperature. Second, insulation creates a more energy-efficient home, saving you up to 20 percent in heating/cooling costs, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). To put that in perspective, the typical U.S. home heating/cooling bill accounts for almost half of its energy costs each month — meaning you could save 10 percent of your overall energy bill.

What type of insulation do you need?

As for most things in life, it is important to know your options. Three of the most common types of insulation for home DIY are fiberglass batts, rigid foam panels (such as expanded polystyrene, or EPS) and mineral wool. Look below for the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Fiberglass

* Pros – non-flammable, inexpensive

* Cons – difficult to install properly without leaving gaps, which renders the insulation much less efficient; handling danger due to glass powder and small glass shards

EPS rigid foam panels

* Pros – excellent sound and temperature insulation; inexpensive; easy to install

* Cons – must cut pieces to fit around pipes, etc.

Mineral wool

* Pros – easy to install; flame resistant

* Cons – more effective when combined with other forms of insulation (meaning more work to install); higher price

For self-installation in your home, EPS offers many benefits other forms of insulation do not. Other forms of insulation (like fiberglass or mineral wool) require more safety precautions, like protective wear and training for proper installation.

“EPS provides the best insulating performance — ‘R-value’ — per dollar of any insulation,” says insulation expert Paul Kopelson, regional sales director for Insulfoam. “Other forms of insulation are challenging to install without leaving gaps and wrinkles that can cut the efficiency of the product in half. It’s important as a homeowner to know that your insulation will do what it’s supposed to, and do it well.”

What’s next?

Inhale confidence, exhale doubts. With your new knowledge of insulation types, a quick trip to a local home improvement store will arm you to better understand the options. Home improvement stores and lumber dealers stock a wide range of insulation products, including EPS options such as R-Tech insulation. Check them out, and get ready for a warmer winter. Your house (and your energy bill) will thank you.



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5 Effortless DIY Projects to Prep Your Home for...

(BPT) - The telltale signs are all there. Maybe it’s football season, the changing color of the trees right outside your door, or the crisp morning air that’s suddenly taken on a chill. Yes, there’s no denying it, fall is here and winter is quickly following behind.

No matter where you live in the country, the colder months are synonymous with the indoor months. Your home becomes your refuge as well as your sanctuary. But as you prepare for the cold yourself, you may not realize your home needs some preparation as well. Now’s the perfect opportunity to begin those projects before fall gives way entirely to winter.

Below are five DIY projects you can tackle in a single Saturday with minimal expense and experience needed, each of which will make the upcoming seasons cozier for you and your family.

* Winterize your AC/water lines. Your air conditioner and your outdoor faucets are mainstays all summer, but as cooler temperatures set in, it’s time to retire them for the year. Start by draining your hoses and air conditioner pipes to remove excess water. Next, be sure all exterior water faucets are tightly sealed and your AC system is turned off — if your unit has such a switch.

* Seal up those hidden gaps and cracks. Small cracks along the borders of your windows or doors are easy to go unnoticed, but you’ll feel their presence on your monthly energy bills. Don’t let warm air escape your home through these openings. Seal them by applying GREAT STUFF(TM) Window & Door Insulating Foam Sealant. These easy-to-use foam sealants can tackle any small opening in your windows or doors to help keep your home energy efficient and prevent those costly air leaks.

* Keep your furnace and its surrounding area clean. Changing your furnace filter regularly (cleaning schedule dependent on your type of furnace) keeps your furnace running efficiently and protects your home’s air quality. However, it’s also one of the most easily forgotten chores. To avoid missing this task, set a date you’ll remember — such as the first of the month — and follow it rigidly. In addition, be sure the area around your furnace is clear of clutter so you don’t accidentally create a potential fire hazard.

* Block out unwanted guests. We’re not talking about your in-laws here. As temperatures drop, the warmth of your home becomes even more appealing for unwanted pests. Use GREAT STUFF(TM) Pestblock Insulating Foam Sealant to seal the areas around bathroom plumbing and any outdoor openings that pests may use to enter your home.

* Insulate your pipes. If you live in a part of the country where your pipes are in danger of freezing during winter, insulating them can protect against pipe rupture. Wrap exterior pipes in a versatile, moisture-resistant, high-compressive foam to ward against pipe freezing and ensure your pipes come into spring in the same shape you left them in the fall.

Our homes are only growing increasingly vulnerable with the changing of the seasons. So, what are you waiting for? Tackling any of these projects will have a dramatic effect on your home’s cold weather preparedness — and the energy bill savings will be great on your wallet, too.



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All home warranties are not created equal

(BPT) - Having a home warranty is a smart way to help deal with the inevitable home repair problems that all property owners face at one point or another.

After all, a good home warranty can mean getting expert help when your HVAC system needs to be fixed, your water heater needs to be replaced, or your refrigerator requires a new part.

But unfortunately, all home warranties are not created equal. And shopping for a home warranty can be tough, especially if you aren’t familiar with home warranty coverage and providers.

So to find a home warranty that will protect your home and budget, here are three important questions to ask, along with a few tips on what to look for in a top-notch home warranty.

1. What’s covered?

Some home warranties are only good for appliances. Others focus on systems within your house, such as your air conditioning, heating or plumbing systems. The best warranties offer broad protection at a fair price, and even allow you to select from various coverage approaches based on your needs.

When shopping around, inquire about exclusions, limitations and non-covered expenses. Most, if not all, plans DO have these. For example, there may be a cap on the amount of coverage for a particular item; an environmental disposal fee, required in some counties, may be excluded from coverage; or modifications, not covered under the home warranty, may be needed to bring a covered system up to code or in compliance with new standards.

2. Is the price affordable?

Obviously, you’ll want to initially know the specifics of how much a warranty will cost you — not just for the annual price of coverage, but also for future service calls.

When purchasing an American Home Shield warranty, you choose a $75, $100 or $125 fee for your service requests, which gives you the flexibility to pay more or less for your annual contract. As with all home warranty companies, the price of an American Home Shield warranty plan varies based on multiple factors, including the specific type of plan you choose and your state of residency. But basic coverage starts at about $300 and goes up to around $600 annually for more comprehensive plans — a bargain considering the cost of replacing things in your house that will likely break down at some point.

When considering cost factors, also ask if all the items you want covered are included in the base cost of the plan, or whether you will need to add additional items to create the perfect plan for your home.

3. Does the home warranty cover just mechanical components?

Before you buy any home warranty, inquire about the extent of coverage different companies may provide based on normal wear and tear of an item — as well as any limitations.

Many components of home systems and appliances contain both mechanical and non-mechanical features. While the primary goal of a home warranty is to repair or replace covered items so that they function mechanically, American Home Shield covers both mechanical repairs and certain non-mechanical items, such as handles, doors, knobs and shelves.

That doesn’t mean everything is covered, of course. So let’s say your child stands on your dishwasher door and breaks the seal. Sorry, but that is NOT a covered repair, because it is not “normal” wear and tear.

Also, what happens if a repair person comes to your home and, despite his or her best efforts, simply can’t fix something covered under your home warranty?

With an AHS home warranty, if a repair person can’t fix a covered item, AHS will replace it.

That doesn’t mean you will necessarily get the precise brand and color of, say, a washing machine or dryer. After all, you may have bought your laundry set four years ago, and the manufacturer might not even make those exact same models or colors today.

However, if your washer and dryer do fizzle out completely, AHS will install a replacement that has similar operational features.

What’s more, at American Home Shield, 98 percent of service requests are dispatched to local repair technicians within 24 hours.

Using your home warranty wisely

Regardless of the type of home warranty you buy or whom you buy it from, always follow the maintenance guidelines specified for your home’s appliances and systems. Likewise, it’s a smart idea to have those systems and appliances regularly serviced.

Taking both of those steps can prevent many service repair calls and help reduce your overall cost of homeownership.

Ultimately, an excellent home warranty provides you with a solid asset that helps safeguard one of your biggest investments.



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Debunking home ownership myths for millennials

(BPT) - We’ve all been told, that owning a home is part of the American dream. It’s the biggest and most rewarding investment many people will make in their lives. Instead of paying rent every month and having nothing to show for it, paying a monthly mortgage builds equity and wealth.

While most know the benefits of owning a home, for many millennials and young people, it can seem like a distant prospect. In fact, while 52 percent of millennials say they no longer want to pay rent, only 18 percent think they can afford a new home, according to a recent survey conducted by loanDepot.

What is the source of this disparity? There are many reasons, but part of the problem is a vast majority of young people think there is only one way to buy a home, or that certain strict criteria has to be met to qualify for a loan.

There are many myths surrounding home ownership. Let's break some of them down.

Misconceptions about the down payment

Many believe a down payment is the biggest obstacle that stands between them and home ownership. The accepted wisdom is that 20 percent of the home's value is needed to make the down payment. This can be a rather substantial sum. Of those surveyed, 63 percent of people think they can’t afford a down payment; 43 percent believe poor credit history would prevent them from entering the housing market and 38 percent worry that too much existing debt would prevent them from doing so.

The truth is, a down payment can be as little as 10, 5, or even 3 percent. Unfortunately, many people don't know how to access these loan options. Rather than simply doing an online search, you should take a few minutes to explore your options and talk to a loan expert at loanDepot to fully explore what kinds of mortgages are available.

Student loans don't have to be a barrier

One of the biggest sources of financial stress for millennials is the amount of student debt they carry. The effects of this debt can be paralyzing, and many believe they first need to pay off their loans before they can even think about owning a home.

The good news is that Fannie Mae recently announced several policy changes designed to help those with student debt qualify for home loans. Other lenders, like loanDepot, have special programs designed to help those with specific types of student loans, or even 40-year mortgage loan programs that have a 10-year interest-only initial repayment period, which can help borrowers tackle their student loan debt while they make lower mortgage payments.

Streamline the process with technology

So where do you start? How can home seekers find the loan that's right for them?

Many millennials think getting a mortgage is a complicated maze. But with loanDepot’s proprietary digital lending platform, future homeowners have access to a web-based consumer portal that provides a fully digital mortgage loan application experience. With these features, as well as access to licensed loan consultants in 180+ retail locations, homebuyers have the ability to explore options they may have never thought existed, and to find the home loan that fits their budget to buy the home of their dreams.



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Articles last updated at Jan 23, 2018 09:53:07am.
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