Home Improvement

Why Spring Is the Best Time to Deep Clean Your Home

Why it's so popular to refresh your spaces during this season every year.

By Nashia Baker 

When you think about springtime, fresh blooms, seasonal fruit, and pastel colors likely come to mind. Another (arguably less fun) seasonal association? Spring cleaning. But why do we deep clean our spaces at this time? According to the experts, it's simple: The warm weather makes a maximum refresh possible. "With the ability to open windows and shake the rugs, spring is the perfect time for decluttering and deep cleaning," says Andy Telatnik, the director of marketing for retail at Bona. If you feel the same way, you're not alone. According to a Bona and Harris Poll survey last year, half of the adults in the United States say that the start of spring is all about cleaning; decluttering and polishing floors will be the top two tasks for homeowners this particular season.

Don't forget about the pros of disinfecting during this time of year, either. "Spring is a season when everyone starts spending a little more time outdoors—and more dirt and germs are invited in," explains Julie Mckinney, PhD, R&D director of equity, claims and compliance, hygiene, and home at Reckitt Benckiser. "Even though spring signals the end of the cold and flu seasons, people should still be vigilant about the germs and bacteria living on surfaces and collecting in the spaces in their homes—especially as the COVID-19 virus continues to circulate." Ahead, our experts share more about the logic behind spring cleaning and how to make the most of this time.

The benefits are both physical and emotional.

With spring comes longer days, which physically shine a light on the grime that has accumulated during winter. You start "noticing all the dust and smudges that have collected over the past year and feel inspired to get it all cleaned out to bring fresh energy," Kadi Dulude, the owner of  Wizard of Homes, a top-rated home cleaner on Yelp, says. And certain parts of your home really do need that refresh. Take your hardwood floors, "Deep cleaning your floors will extend their life," Telatnik shares. "By  removing dust, debris, and other elements of winter, deep cleaning will prevent scratches and damage to the wood finish, which likely means refinishing the floors less often."

Inevitably,  when your space looks good, you feel good, too. A recent Harris Poll survey, in partnership with Bona, found that people feel safer, productive, relieved, happy, and in control after cleaning and disinfecting their homes. Plus, eight out of 10 Americans felt more relaxed and enjoyed spending time in their spaces that much more.

Take a targeted approach.

"When considering what to prioritize in your spring cleaning and disinfecting routine, remember that any frequently touched surface should be considered high priority," Mckinney says. "Think light switches, doorknobs, handles, and sink faucets—all places where germs can linger for hours, or even days, and then travel from person to person." Once you've got your head wrapped around the most important areas to clean, Dulude says to carve out time and listen to your favorite music to make the process a fun one. Another tip? Round up go-to supplies. "Pick scents and materials that make you want to try them out on different surfaces," she explains. "Get a new mop, microfiber cloths, or organizing bins." She always recommends having other cleaners on hand to give your floors, countertops, and other most-touched surfaces the deepest clean possible.

From here, Dulude says to start on the top floor of your home with hard-to-reach items. "Things that are often overlooked during weekly cleans: tops of picture frames, ceiling fans, tops of high dressers and cabinets, and the insides of lighting fixtures," she explains. "But don't forget to clean under things, too. Take everything out from under the bed, give it all a clean, and put things back neatly (after mopping the floor, of course)." Take this approach in every space, like under your big kitchen appliances. If you'd rather enlist help to master this type of cleaning, you can also turn to an app or use a cleaning business tailored for the task.

Maximize your cleaning efforts.

Next, Dulude recommends these essential steps: deep clean your rugs, donate, toss or recycle any things you don't need, wipe down your knick-knacks, wash your throw pillows, blankets, and toys, and remove scuffs from your walls. Make sure to scrub your floors too. After this step, Telatnik says to let them dry, and then apply a coat of polish to refresh your finish. "A coat of polish can even out a floor's look, filling in any small scratches and adding a new protective layer on top of your floor," he said. "If the surface has larger areas of damage (worn patches, scratches, water spots, etc.), consider contacting a certified flooring contractor to determine the best approach."

"Additional steps that people often neglect, but should definitely tackle as part of their comprehensive spring cleaning and disinfecting routine, include vacuuming the mattress to reduce allergens and dust mites, emptying and disinfecting the shelves and drawers around the house, vacuuming the blower compartments of the A/C to prevent mold and mildew from venturing into your home, and cleaning the inside of the washing machine to help prevent bacteria buildup and laundry contamination adds Mckinney.


4 Simple Updates to Refresh the Home Office

Homeowners across the country have transformed their kitchens and living rooms into temporary workstations. But have they created an optimal setup for remote work? Kelsey Stuart, CEO of Bloomin’ Blinds, offers the following tips to make a home office more inviting and motivational.

Give the walls a fresh coat of paint. Whether you have a designated home office or plan to repurpose a spare bedroom or basement, try a quick and fresh paint job to transform the room. Lighter tones reflect more light, helping to make a home office feel roomier. Try a light, simple color scheme in order to promote high energy and creativity. This will also provide a professional background for video conference calls. Need inspiration? Try these 2021 paint colors of the year from Benjamin-MooreBehrPantone, or Sherwin-Williams.

Good lighting is key. Lighting is critical to productivity and professionalism in the age of Zoom calls. There are two ways to control the lighting in a room: through natural light via windows and artificial light, using lamps and bulbs.

  • If you haven’t already, swap out existing lightbulbs for LED bulbs. Relatively inexpensive, LEDs are energy-efficient and help light up a room better than traditional bulbs. Eliminate shadows by adding lamps where needed.

  • Whether you’re trying to focus for an extended period of time or are about to log into a videoconference call, controlling the amount of natural light in the room impacts your productivity. You might find it helpful to rearrange your office based on natural light sources so that your eyes don’t get fatigued. Also, control the amount of light in the space by adding blinds, which give you the ability to direct the light in your office. You could also use shades with motorized units to make easier adjustments. Blinds also can have sun sensors that will lower shades if the window gets too hot, helping you to stay focused on your work.

Bring in the outdoors. A functional and beautiful add-on to your office space, plants have been shown to boost creativity while also creating a calm environment to work—all while filtering the air you breathe. Here are ideas for what plants to add.

Personalize your space. We’re all spending more time in our home office, so don’t forget to add the personal touches that remind you of why you go to work every day. For instance, photos of loved ones or a fun pattern on a floor rug can help you create a space that you’re happy to spend time in.



Courtesy Realtor Magazine

Source: By Kelsey Stuart, CEO of Bloomin’ Blinds  

Getting the Right Light

Choosing bulbs has gotten much more complicated as energy-saving technology becomes more common. Here’s how to make the smartest and most flattering choices for a home.

By Al DeGenova

Selecting a beautiful new light fixture for a home is a great way to visually update a home and add sparkle to a space. But putting the wrong lightbulb in that fixture can have disastrous effects. The wrong lighting makes a room feel too dark or too bright. Light also affects the appearance of upholstery, paint, or artwork.

Comparing lighting options available today can be like comparing a Model T with a Prius because of the vast options—both old-school and new—on the market. With energy consciousness steadily rising, the expansion of federal legislation mandating lightbulb efficiency is now being reconsidered by the Department of Energy, and some states, including California, Nevada, and Washington, already have strict laws in place. The 60-watt tungsten bulb is, indeed, becoming a Model T.

Just as you can still find gas-guzzling cars, however, you can still purchase incandescent bulbs. However, you need to understand the terminology surrounding new light sources.

Lightbulb Types

LED, CFL, and halogen and tungsten incandescent: LED is the most energy-efficient and long-lasting; it’s also the most expensive. Tungsten incandescent bulbs are the least efficient and cheapest; 90% of the energy consumed by an incandescent bulb is lost as heat. CFLs contain mercury and must be disposed of properly.

Bulbs come in any number of shapes and sizes. When shopping, the most common lightbulb shape and size is described as an “A19 Medium Base.”

Brightness: Light output is measured in lumens, not watts as we previously used for brightness. In context, a 60-watt incandescent bulb provides roughly 800 lumens: 40W, 450 lumens; 75W, 1100 lumens; 100W, 1600 lumens; 150W, 2600 lumens.

Energy Used: The amount of electricity that a lightbulb consumes is measured in watts. A 60W tungsten bulb consumes 60W. An 800-lumen LED bulb (equivalent to the 60-watt tungsten) uses approximately 14W of electricity, a 75% reduction in energy consumption. Efficiency is often expressed as lumens per watt; the higher the LPM ratio, the more energy-efficient the bulb.

Light Appearance: We understand lightbulbs described as “warm white” or “bright white,” but these are subjective terms, meaning different things to different manufacturers. Light appearance refers to the “color” of the white light. Light color is represented in Kelvin, a temperature measurement. 2700K is roughly the equivalent of a tungsten bulb; 3000K roughly the equivalent of a halogen bulb; 4500K considered equivalent to daylight, and appears blueish.

2700K lighting is warm and cozy, great for living rooms and bedrooms. 3000K lighting is crisper and best used where functional light is important, as in a kitchen or bathroom. 4000K is great for the garage or laundry room. Make sure that the lamps and ceiling lights in a room have matching Kelvin ratings. Nothing’s worse for a room’s appearance than mismatched light color. A bedroom with 2700K lighting at the ceiling and 4000K in the nightstand lamp looks awkward and will create an imbalance in paint and fabric colors.

Dimming: Ever say, “let’s dim the lights” to create a little romance or watch a movie? When incandescent bulbs are dimmed, their color warms, meaning that it changes to look more like candlelight.

Look for the word “dimmable” as a feature on the lightbulb package or integrated LED fixture. Unlike incandescent lighting, not all LED or CFL lights can be dimmed. This is not a huge consideration for bulbs used in table or floor lamps, but ceiling lights, especially chandeliers, are often controlled by wall dimmer switches. Nondimmable LEDs may not react and CFLs may turn a greenish-blue color. So much for atmosphere.

Further, LEDs and CFLs rated as dimmable will not warm to look like candlelight. They will simply get less bright while giving off the same color. LEDs offer a technology called “warm dim” that mimics the dimming of incandescent bulbs. Search for warm dim LEDs that offer a color range of 3000K to 2200K or wider.

Color Rendering: You probably won’t see the color rendering index of a lightbulb on its package. But this measurement is important when illuminating artwork or when highlighting decor, such as fabrics or paint colors. Low CRI ratings make the colors in a room seem flat, while high CRI makes color snap.

Sunlight, with a CRI of 100, has the most accurate color rendering; halogen matches sunlight with 100 CRI, which is why galleries often use halogen lighting. Most LED bulbs are rated above 85 CRI, which is considered acceptable; CFLs are somewhat lower. However, LEDs are available at higher CRI levels when color rendering is critical.


Al DeGenova is a freelance writer and former marketing executive in the lighting industry based in the Chicago area.


9 Steps to Help Decide on Solar Energy for a Home

With federal tax breaks for solar panels ending in 2021, this could be time for your home energy independence. When it comes to deciding if an investment in solar will pay off, you have to do research and make smart decisions for your home and financial situation. 

By Brandon Doyle

3 Takeaways

  • You should make your home as energy efficient as possible before investing in a solar system so you don't pay for a bigger system than you need.

  • A solar system is an investment with a typical payback period of eight years. 

  • You should know the warranty terms of a solar system and who will maintain the system when there are inevitable issues.

Here are some steps to take along the way:

Step 1: Figure out the home’s solar potential.

To get an initial idea about a roof’s solar potential, you can enter the address at Google Project Sunroof or check out solar resource maps from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. One common misconception is that solar panels only pay off in hot, sunny parts of the country. To test this idea, you should look around your yard. Are there trees and other green plants? Plants use the sun’s energy to grow their leaves, so they are a good indicator of solar energy in your yard. Solar panels actually perform more efficiently in cooler temperatures.

Step 2: See what the home’s utility bills tell you.

Are the annual utility bills high enough that a solar investment will pay off in a reasonable period of time? For most homeowners, a utility bill tells you one basic fact: monthly usage. But a high monthly electricity bill can be caused by many factors ranging from old appliances to inefficient HVAC systems to poor insulation. Make the home as energy efficient as possible before buying a solar system so you’re not paying for a bigger system than you need.

Step 3: Plan ahead.

Will you be living in the same house in the next decade? A solar system is a big investment with a typical payback period of eight years. If you plan to move in the next couple years, buying or leasing solar panels could be a money-losing decision. If you decide to move after leasing, you’ll need to buy the system, assume the lease, or pay the provider to terminate the lease altogether.

Step 4: Establish an accurate baseline.

A home energy monitor like Sense will track energy consumption both before and after solar is installed. Get a couple months of data and use that information to calculate how much of the current bill can be offset with solar and how big an installation is needed.

Step 5: Consider financing and payoffs.

Solar panels are an investment that needs to pay off financially. You should take your time analyzing whether buying or leasing will be most advantageous. If you decide to buy, most solar providers and websites like EnergySage will factor the 26% federal incentive into their estimates as well as any state incentives. Together, those incentives have a big impact on the final cost. If you need financing, you should talk with your bank, mortgage provider, or a lender, which offers solar-specific loans and resources. You should do the math to figure out how much you’ll need to invest and when that investment will pay off.

Loan and lease options are attractive because they can be cash-flow positive as soon as the solar panels are installed without a cash outlay in advance, but with a lease, customers don’t benefit from the federal tax credit. But you shouldn’t view leasing as a short-term decision since most loans and lease agreements are for longer than 10 years. The monthly lease prices of a solar system in the U.S. vary depending on how much energy a house requires and can produce. The higher the electricity bill, the higher the lease cost will be since it will demand higher solar productivity. To get an idea, Tesla calculates solar panel rentals based on the home’s address and electricity bill.

Step 6: Decide on storage or no storage.

Energy storage is still a premium option, but prices are dropping significantly every year. To help you decide if you need storage, consider two factors: when you use electricity and how frequently it’s interrupted. In areas with rolling brownouts or downed power lines from storms, solar storage can get you through without an interruption and batteries can store solar energy to use at night or on cloudy days. Do the math to figure out the payoff for storage.

Step 7: Make a short list of providers.

Once you've decided to install solar panels, you should research providers online and check their reviews. Identify three or four companies that look promising and ask for online quotes based on remote solar audits, then, narrow the candidates down to two or three installers. Their construction experts will visit the house to measure and assess the roof, conduct a shade analysis, and check to see if the electrical panel will need to be upgraded. Their final quote will reflect all those factors. When evaluating proposals, be sure it includes any costs to update the roof or remove trees that create shade.

Step 8: Ask more questions before deciding on a provider.

Once you have two or three final estimates based on in-person home assessments, you should ask the providers about how they’ll handle the installation. For instance, does the provider design and install the systems themselves, or do they subcontract to local companies? If the provider uses subcontractors, are the subcontractors licensed? Make sure the contractor can explain the components of the solar system they’re installing.

You should ask if they’ll file the necessary permits, including the electrical permit, building permit, and the dedicated solar photovoltaic permit. A reputable provider will help you file for rebates and tax incentives or do it for you. Make sure you know the warranty term and who will maintain the system when there are inevitable issues. And, finally, if you are leasing, you should ask the provider to disclose what the system is worth so you’ll have that information if you decide to sell your home.

Step 9: Patience required.

You should evaluate all the proposals to make sure they correctly address the home’s energy needs, then choose a provider you can trust. Once a contract is signed with a provider, the installation and permitting process can be surprisingly long as contractors file all the paperwork on your behalf with the utility and municipality. It can take a few weeks to get permits sorted out before the installer can get the solar panels on the roof.

When the system is installed and connected to the utility, it will start producing energy whenever the sun shines. You will save money on your utility bill while relying on clean energy that’s good for the planet.


Brandon Doyle, ABR, e-PRO, is a second-generation real estate pro with RE/MAX Results in the Twin Cities. He is also coauthor of the book M3—Mindset, Methods & Metrics: Winning as a Modern Real Estate Agent

How to Decorate a Living Room

Whether your style is traditional or modern, relaxed or formal, bold or subdued, your living room should be a place where you can feel comfortable, let down your guard and spend quality time with friends, family or just yourself. There’s an art to decorating a room that looks great and works well for you. 

Yanic Simard, designer for Toronto Interior Design Group offers tips and tricks for creating a comfortable space that reflects your style. Here are some of his favorites.

1. Mix Light and Dark

When a living room is all white and bright, it can feel too “clean” and unapproachable. When it’s all dark, it can feel like a cave. But mixing dark and light colors creates a dynamic look that has depth and balance. The design of any space benefits from the inclusion of at least a little white and a little black.

2. Contrast Your Neutrals

Beyond including some white and some black, decorating a living room with a variety of contrasting neutrals goes a long way toward making it feel rich and welcoming. In this example, the white walls, caramel leather, brass hardware, gray sofa and blue-gray cabinets all contrast with one another, which highlights their different finishes and undertones. This makes the palette feel rich even before other key elements, such as color, pattern and texture, are added.

3. Play With Texture

Texture is easy to overlook when decorating a living room, especially since we don’t see it so much as touch it. But it’s important for making a living room feel cozy, and that goes for plush textures that appeal to the touch and harder textures that add contrast. Include leather, cotton, wool, metal, stone, glass, plant life and as many other textures as you can.

Pillows are a great place to start, especially if you’re decorating a living room on a budget. Look to other accessories and furnishings to add new materials to the palette, even in small doses.


4. Work in Some Wood

We can’t talk about texture without talking about wood, one of the top materials for bringing a sense of warmth to a living room.

There are so many ways to add wood, any of which will make a space feel a bit more inviting. Consider wall paneling, side tables, movable stools, picture frames, sofa legs and carved pieces of art as just a few of the many options.

5. Mix Up Your Upholstery

Sure, most furniture stores give you the option of purchasing an entire living room set in matching upholstery, but that doesn’t mean you should do it. In a formal seating area, matching upholstery can give a sense of maturity and order, but if you want a living room to feel cozy and welcoming, mix and match your upholstered pieces to give the design a bit more personality.

One of the safest ways to do this is to mix leather chairs with a fabric sofa or vice versa, so the materials contrast in an obviously intentional way. It gives the living room design some diversity, which can also give members of the family different options to suit their seating preferences.

6. Choose Practical Fabrics

Speaking of upholstery, it’s especially important for living room seating to be not only comfortable but durable. What this means will depend on your family. You may have babies or small children, pets or not, and they may be messy or tidy. In general, mid-tone fabrics are the safest bet, as very light or dark shades will readily show soil and wear.

Leather is a great material for avoiding stains because it can be easily wiped clean when a spill occurs. However, it’s usually more easily scratched than most fabrics, so it may not endure animals as well. A leather that already has a broken-in look or a pattern can age especially well.

See how to clean leather furniture

Denim and corduroy are two other materials that can be inviting yet durable. Plus, they add an unexpected twist compared with the typical plain cotton or wool upholstery you often see in stores. When choosing fabric for your living room furniture, look for a material with a blend of natural and synthetic fabrics to get the practical features of both, and if possible do a bend test of a fabric swatch to make sure the weave appears tight and doesn’t reveal the backing material. A tight weave will be more durable than a loose one (which leaves lots of space for dirt to hide), no matter the material.

7. Add a Dash of Color

While you can create a beautiful space without any vivid hues, adding even a little bit of color to a living room can go a long way toward creating a relaxed and inviting atmosphere.

When in doubt, look to a cheerful blue — it’s a hue that usually everyone can agree on. It perfectly contrasts warm elements such as leather and wood, and it feels just neutral enough to work with basically any other future accent colors.

8. Add a Patterned Rug

Pattern is a powerful design tool, infusing a living room with energy and minimizing the appearance of stains or wear. A patterned rug brings these benefits to the “fifth wall” — the floor — simultaneously anchoring a seating area and giving the whole room a sense of life. Even if you already have carpeting, consider adding a rug to your seating area. The first time you roll it up to go to the cleaners after a big spill, you’ll be glad you had it there.

9. Choose Movable Tables and Stools

Lightweight tables, stools, ottomans and even side chairs that can be moved around easily make a living room much more comfortable, giving you and your family lots of options on a daily basis for putting your feet up, setting a drink down or seating an extra guest. 

Use a few smaller pieces, such as the upholstered footstools seen here, to allow for movement of pieces closer to and farther from the main seating as needed.

10. Consider Conversational Distances

No matter how big your living room, there’s a limit to how large a seating group can be and still make sense for intimate conversation and cozy gatherings. A good distance between seats to facilitate conversation is about 8 feet, meaning if you have several sofas or a sofa and side chairs, the seating area should have a diameter of 8 feet, or 4 feet out from the center. 

A huge, 12-seat sectional sofa may look great and be perfect for a party, but if you’re looking to create a cozy living room, it’s usually best to use fewer, smaller seating pieces and push them a little closer together.

11. Don’t Take It Too Seriously

A living room is a great space to embrace thoughtful disorder, such as through an artistic gallery wall, mix-and-match throw pillows, open storage baskets and fun furniture like this tepee-inspired tent.

Trying for perfect order will mean that anything out of place will stick out like a sore thumb, whereas accepting a bit of controlled chaos will mean the occasional dropped toy or draped blanket will look right at home.

Styling in Place

The design trends that will dominate in 2021 reflect the ways the COVID-19 pandemic has upended people’s lives, driving them to create a home that’s a safe place to relax, work, study, and socialize. 

By Barbara Ballinger

While the following three enhancements address practical needs, there are plenty of high aesthetics—and a healthy dose of joy—in these new visions for the lives people are living indoors and outdoors. These are the kinds of upgrades that may just have people choosing to stay put, even when it’s safe to venture out more freely.

1. Two-for-one “Layered” Kitchens

Even before the pandemic, some homeowners with an open floorplan found that increased exposure and family togetherness posed a downside in the kitchen work area: piles of dirty dishes, cluttered countertops, and other unsightly messes. Leave it to trendsetters to develop a solution for those with ample space and funds: two kitchens in one. Mick De Giulio of de Giulio Kitchen Design in Chicago calls it a “layered kitchen” with separate “work” and “living” zones. Cheryl Kees Clendenon of In Detail Interiors in Pensacola, Fla., refers to it as having a “prep and show kitchen.” In the work area, typically at the back and concealed by a door, wall, or hall, serious cooking and cleanup take place. The area may be part of a large laundry or utility room and might also be used by caterers (when entertaining returns with gusto), Clendenon says.

In contrast, the living or show kitchen at the front remains open, designed to display culinary creations in a clean, uncluttered way. It’s where a golden-brown turkey would come out of the oven before being carried to the back for carving. Some homeowners may also designate one kitchen for special-requirements cooking such as gluten-free prep, which a client of Clendenon’s requested. Or some may want to make space for a dedicated beverage center with a coffee station, refrigerated drawers, and a wine cooler to meet needs from morning to night, De Giulio says.

2. Flexible, Prefabricated Sheds

Sheds, once used primarily to store sports equipment and garden paraphernalia, have evolved into a common home addition. Some homeowners use them as overflow storage instead of paying for an expensive off-site facility. Others seek larger and better outfitted models as accessory dwelling units for people because more municipalities are approving ADUs. They’ve become dwellings for returning adult children and short- and long-term renters, quiet work-from-home quarters, and escapes for recouping sanity—hence the new moniker “the sanity shed.”

Rather than have an architect or contractor design and build a shed from scratch—which can be pricey and time-consuming and which often requires a building permit—homeowners can find more affordable, off-the-shelf options on the market, some of which can be customized. Boulder, Colo.–based Studio Shed has experienced explosive growth during the pandemic. The company offers prefabricated, sustainable designs that vary by size (from 64 to 256 square feet), color, door and window placement, finishes, and price ($11,000 and up). Because of the increase in gardening during the pandemic, the company offers its “Studio Sprout” greenhouse ($14,250), while customers’ most popular choice is a functional home office (about $25,000). Some municipalities looking to spur affordable housing in a shorter time frame offer preapproved plans for expanded sheds that can serve as modest dwellings, says architect Brian O’Looney of Torti Gallas + Partners in Washington, D.C., in his new book, Increments of Neighborhood.

3. Outdoor Warming Features

As temperatures fell, homeowners wanted to extend safe, outdoor socializing with family and friends in the time of COVID-19. “Everybody wanted to turn their backyard into an oasis to be able to eat safely and talk,” says landscape architect Clara Batchelor of CBA Landscape Architects in Cambridge, Mass. Many, including residents of multifamily buildings with shared outdoor space, want to keep doing so throughout winter. Two features that make fresh-air living in chilly evening weather pleasant are fire pits and patio heaters. They offer warmth from infrared electric heat, propane, or real wood-burning fires.

Local authorities are revising codes and ordinances to ease requirements pertaining to fire features, says architect Gary Kane with The Architectural Team in Chelsea, Mass. While fire pits have been popular for years, they’ve become more stylish, now available in different shapes, sizes, materials, weights, and prices. One design that grabbed attention early in the pandemic was Solo Stove’s portable “Bonfire” pit that uses logs but is smokeless. Hybrid models use gas and burning logs, says landscape architect Marc Nissim of Harmony Design in Westfield, N.J. Patio heaters are a newer home addition, inspired by restaurants using them to coax diners to eat outdoors. Using a variety of heating fuels, some are designed to stand alone and others mount on a wall or ceiling, says landscape designer Michael Glassman of Michael Glassman & Associates in Sacramento, Calif.

Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer and the author of several books on real estate, architecture, and remodeling


Show Your Home a Little Love This Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is a time to celebrate the ones we love, but this year, besides celebrating it with flowers, chocolates, and a candle-lit dinner, be sure to show your home a little love too.

By Christopher Kelly 

New Decorations

Adding some new decorative items, whether they’re temporary, like a bouquet of flowers on the dining room table, or more permanent, like a fresh coat of paint, are a great way to show your home a little love and help yourself fall in love with your home all over again. 

Clean Up

Get a head start on your spring cleaning by washing the windows, cleaning the carpets, and dusting the fans now. The fresh feeling you create is a great way to show your home some love.

Minor Renovations

Looking to save water? Consider a new showerhead. Want to upgrade the fixtures in your home? Consider something as simple as new outlet covers. Home renovations don’t have to be big and expensive; even small upgrades can have a big impact on your home.

Make Repairs

If you have a loose banister in the stairwell, need to replace caulk in your bathroom, or a light switch that doesn’t work, go ahead and repair it yourself or bring someone in to repair those items.


Christopher Kelly, RE/MAX Bayside



Improvements First-Time Homeowners Should Tackle First

While low mortgage rates and the COVID-19 pandemic continue to motivate first-time buyers, other factors need to figure into their financial planning. Tight inventory markets mean many home shoppers will end up purchasing a house that requires repairs to its structure and mechanical systems, which will take a big bite out of their budget.

By Barbara Ballinger

Owning a home is a significant financial investment. These 10 tips will help you prepare for maintenance and repair costs, too.

3 Takeaways: 

  • First-time buyers should look beyond the shiny new kitchen and consider problematic signs in a listing.

  • Chimney inspections can point out crumbling mortar and problems with flashings, flue liners, and the flue itself.

  • Homes without good gutters and downspouts may have problems with interior leaks.

First-time buyers may want to look beyond the shiny new kitchen and sizable outdoor space and consider problematic signs, such as a leaky roof, cracked pipes, or inefficient air leaks. A thorough home inspection is good a start, yet, some buyers are willing to waive the inspection to make their offer more appealing to sellers in today’s competitive market. Although, they should know the risks involved when purchasing without an inspection.

All too often, homeowners—especially those buying a fixer-upper—focus on aesthetics, like gleaming subway tiles they plan to install along a kitchen backsplash or how they’ll transform a yard into a mediation retreat. They can’t forget about the issues that must take priority. Houses age just as people do, and they require regular checkups, repairs, and new parts, akin to our doctor visits, medications, and surgeries.

“So many homeowners buy a house for a lifestyle rather than for economic reasons, so they tend to think about the glitzy stuff rather than what’s behind the walls and sometimes not visible,” says Jennifer Ames, a salesperson with Engel and Volkers' Chicago office.

While it’s less joyful to spend money on replacing a furnace or roof than updating an old bathroom or porch, it’s critical to do so to protect an investment. Due diligence can also help lower heating and cooling bills and pare down other costs. Homebuyers should have specialists perform ongoing maintenance and to not put off repairs that may become more expensive if left untended. Some might even lead to health issues, such as mold.

1. Keep away rain. Climate changes have brought heavy rains and storms to more parts of the country, and homes without good gutters and downspouts may have problems with interior leaks and standing water in the yard.

A home’s gutters should be pitched away from the house and be wide enough to carry water without leaves getting clogged—ideally 6 inches rather than the traditional 4 inches.

Downspouts should extend 5 feet from the home’s foundation so water won’t collect near the home and leak inside, potentially causing mold.

Gutters should be cleared annually or semi-annually. An expert should periodically check wood fascia boards behind gutters, which may rot over time. Also, installing a drip edge to the roof’s plywood decking to keep water from getting underneath. In addition, the landscape should be regraded if the yard slants downward toward the house.

2. Tighten the envelope. Homes that are not well sealed allow warm air to escape in winter and cool air in summer. It also makes it easier for bugs and rodents to find their way inside. Hire an expert to perform an assessment. The assessment provides a number that indicates how leaky a house is, and directs a homeowner to undertake changes, such as using caulk to seal around windows, air ducts, and areas where the walls meet the foundation. In addition to lowering energy costs, this also prevents pollutants and humidity from entering the home.

Historically, most homeowners who add insulation choose foam or mineral wool, but many building codes now require tighter envelopes, so the industry is moving toward blown-in rockwool, fiberglass, and cellulose.

Another way to keep out insects and rodents is to use inert pesticides like boric acid.

3. Maintain a stable foundation. Cracks in a foundation require prompt attention so they don’t spread and cause more severe problems. Cracks develop for all sorts of reasons, from climate fluctuations to age to land sloping toward the house. A structural engineer should be hired to do an assessment and help the homeowners develop a solution, such as waterproofing a basement and foundation down to the footings or installing a sump pump and battery backup system to remove future water. Telltale signs of a wet basement may be stains on walls or bad odors from moisture.  

4. Inspect the roof. Unless it’s a simple case of a roof missing a few shingles, a home’s topmost layer can become an expensive repair if it’s old or badly damaged. Buyers should ask sellers the age of the roof and how it was constructed. The best shingle roofs also have a good underlayment and decking underneath.

Flashing, a plumbing stack, chimneys, and skylights should also be inspected before purchase because rain, animals, and debris can find their way into openings. A metal roof will last longer—50 to 100 years versus a shingle roof’s 30 years—but its costs can be four times higher. Homeowners may find it useful to have an annual roof inspection to check for storm damage. Also, they should perform their own visual inspection by noting discoloration or curled or missing shingles.

5. Update lighting. Old incandescent lightbulbs increase energy costs and have a short life span. LEDs are an easy, affordable upgrade that require far fewer changes and are much more efficient. Choose LEDs with a 2,600 to 3,000 K (kelvin) measurement that produces a warm color, similar to 60-watt incandescent. Because LED bulbs come in a wide variety of shades, trying out one to see if it appeals before buying for an entire house. Also, avoiding compact fluorescent lights, which take time to warm up and can be overly bright, almost like a floodlight.

6. Add air conditioning. With much of the country experiencing more extreme heat, many new homeowners may find that fans aren’t sufficient to cool a home. Window AC units work, but don’t cool a house efficiently and are less visually appealing. A quality AC system will provide a good return on investment at resale.

A split system to lower energy costs since each room can be separately controlled. However, the costs are greater than one central system—sometimes 50 percent more—though they will help save money over time. Some companies recommend adding an ultraviolet light system to kill mold, bacteria, and viruses from being circulated, which many homeowners have started to do since the onset of the pandemic.

7. Prepare for outages. Many experts believe electricity outages will continue to be a problem in certain parts of the country. A generator is a wise investment, especially if outages grow longer and more frequent. Homeowners can still benefit from the federal solar tax credit if they invest in a solar-battery backup system.

A battery backup attached to a solar array could be connected to a single circuit to extend the life of the battery’s charge. On average, costs might run from $25,000 to $40,000. Less costly, but also less environmentally friendly, is a diesel generator system, which may run between $18,000 and $22,000 for a 3,000-square-foot home, or $5,000 to $8,000 for a smaller unit that powers kitchen appliances and some lights. Besides cost, it works for longer periods without needing to be recharged like a solar system.

8. Maintain wood. Wood adds charm to a home, whether through siding, flooring, railings, or a deck. But it also requires regular maintenance. Boards—even new ones—can rot due to weather and insects. Another culprit is the type of wood used today. A century ago, the center of trees was used for boards, which made them sturdier than today’s wood planks that are made from the entire tree and its pulp. That means they also carry more moisture, and therefore rot faster. Pressure washing a house to remove mold and sealing wood well with quality paint will reduce this.

9. Remember tree care. Trees are a beautiful addition to a property, providing shade in summer and picturesque snow-covered branches in winter. But they should not be overlooked by homeowners when it comes to their care. Big limbs may come down during storms, insects can feast on wood, and spreading tree roots may clog sewers. New homeowners should hire an arborist to examine their site’s trees when they move in and have limbs pruned periodically. Diseased trees should be promptly removed to prevent spread.

10. All things chimney. A stately chimney adds elegance to a home, the equivalent of icing on a cake. But if it’s not tended to, moisture can enter, along with animals and other debris. A cap will help, as will inspections to point out crumbling mortar and problems with flashings, flue liners, and the flue itself. Keeping all parts in shape will also improve the air quality in a house and allow smoke to exit more freely when the fireplace is used. If a chimney has significantly deteriorated, the home buyer will have to decide whether to take it down to the roof level and sheathe it over with shingles or to have it repaired. Another factor may be cost, which can vary greatly. A third factor may be if the house is located in a historic neighborhood and exterior parts must be retained according to a municipality’s rules.

Barbara Ballinger; Barbara is a freelance writer for REALTOR Magazine and the author of several books on real estate, architecture, and remodeling.

6 Common Causes of Clutter and Their Cures

If you have clutter in your home, you’re certainly not alone. Most of us hang on to unneeded things and struggle to keep our homes clutter-free. But if we could identify the root causes of the clutter, could we make it go away? Identifying the cause of clutter is definitely a great first step. Clutter may have one of several root causes. 

Life changes, decision avoidance and a lack of efficient systems can be contributing factors.

By Jeanne Taylor

1. Your Life Circumstances Have Changed

A change in life circumstances — a new baby or job, a move to a new home, an illness or injury — can be stressful and lead to a typically tidy home becoming cluttered. Eventually, this type of clutter resolves when the baby starts sleeping through the night or the moving boxes are unpacked. The question is how long adjusting will take and how much your clutter will bother you in the interim. 

If you’re frustrated by your chaos and you lack time or bandwidth to address it, you may want to seek help from family, friends or a professional home organizer to get you through this stressful phase. 

2. You Lack Habits for Keeping Your Home Tidy

Some people are not in the practice of hanging up their jackets or putting away their beauty supplies. Patterns like these can cause a state of disarray at home. But it’s not impossible to establish new habits. 

I recommend trying an approach called “the habit loop,” from the bestselling book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg, which I outlined in this story. Essentially, it involves three steps: cue, routine and reward. The cue is a reminder that initiates a new behavior. The routine is the behavior itself. The reward is the benefit you get from doing the new behavior. It’s a method that has worked well for me as well as for some of my organizing clients.

3. You Lack Systems for Handling Your Stuff

Not having systems in place to handle items we touch every day can lead to a lot of clutter buildup. Here are a few of the big culprits.

  • Paper and mail are the No. 1 source of clutter in many homes. If you’re unsure how long to keep old bank statements, bills, tax returns and other records, or if you lack an efficient system for handling pending paperwork such as unpaid bills, the mess tends to mount. The good news is that you can take some simple, straightforward steps to address your paper pile and create a system for sorting mail. If you need help sorting the old items and setting up a new system, I recommend scheduling an appointment with a professional home organizer.

  • Cellphones, keys, glasses, wallets and laptops. Lacking a designated location to store these items can lead not only to clutter but to endless frustration. The solution is to simply designate a location so that you don’t have to search for these items every time you leave the house. A kitchen drawer with a charging station is ideal, but if you don’t have one, then simply corral these items in a small basket near an electrical outlet where you can easily grab them when you leave the house.

  • Purses, computer bags, backpacks, sports bags and outerwear. Closets and coat racks can fill up quickly with these bulky items, with extras ending up on the backs of chairs or draped over bannisters. Often, there are just too many of these items, so consider winnowing your collection. For example, if your child receives a new backpack each year, consider donating the old one. Sort through coats and donate any that no longer fit or you no longer use. Hang everyday bags and outerwear on a coat rack or in a closet near the front door. Store ski jackets and special-occasion purses in a different location.

  • Children’s art supplies, toys and homework. Children generate a large amount of clutter, with the most intense period of disarray beginning in babyhood and continuing through elementary school. Taming this mess can be challenging for even the most organized person — especially when it comes to toys that pile up as friends and family members offer gifts. If your child will agree, consider donating some toys to a charity to cut down on the mess.

As for the rest of children’s belongings, because young children like to be near their parents, you’d be wise to set up storage in or near the spaces where the family is most likely to spend time. Typically, this is the kitchen or great room.

4. You Own Too Many Items Used for the Same Purpose

I commonly help clients who have collected an overabundance of pens, pencils, reusable grocery bags, notepads, serving bowls and platters, kitchen tools, sunscreen, binders and coffee mugs. Fortunately, this is a relatively straightforward decluttering challenge. Simply reduce your collection of these items to an amount that will reasonably fit into your storage space and that you will realistically be able to use. Going forward, consider what you already own before buying. Be realistic about whether you have room to store a new item.

5. You Avoid Making Decisions About Your Things

Some people avoid deciding what to do with their clutter by placing items in a basement, garage or closet not visible from the main living spaces. This is a common tactic when quickly cleaning up before a party. However, this type of clutter weighs on people’s minds because they know it has to be dealt with sometime.

I often work with clients to sort through boxes and bags of stashed belongings that have been left in place for years. Usually the contents end up in the recycling bin or the landfill. If you know you have such boxes lurking, consider enlisting the help of a friend or a professional to help you sort through them and get them out of your life.

6. Your Health Gets in the Way 

A long-term health problem can sometimes result in household clutter as schedules are upset by medical appointments and free time becomes scarce. In these circumstances, a person may lack energy or mobility. Similarly, clutter can accumulate as we age and lose energy, balance or mental capacity for making decisions.

In such cases, it may be necessary to get outside help. A family member might need to attend to the clutter once a week. A professional organizer may need to create systems to more easily keep the home tidy.

On the other hand, extreme clutter or hoarding is usually caused by underlying issues that may require the help of a psychologist or other professional.

For most of us, clutter is simply a part of modern life. If you struggle with it, you’re certainly not alone. But take heart: With determination and a little help — whether moral support from friends or the guidance of a professional — you can overcome it and live a more organized life.

Jeanne Taylor, Houzz Contributor, is a home organizer in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Shhhh! When a Home Is Too Loud

The ability to work from home during the pandemic has been a blessing for many people, but it’s also made some acutely aware of the absence of one element helpful for productivity: quiet.

By Melissa Dittmann Tracey

With many people working or studying remotely, these strategies may help cut down the noise.

Many have taken to barricading themselves in closets or hiding in their cars to insulate themselves from chatty household members or noisy street sounds. Echo-prone open floor plans have exacerbated the problem as family members concurrently try to do their jobs or attend remote school.

Enter acoustic consultants, armed with sound- proof design techniques and technology to bring some peace and quiet to home environments. Real estate pros can benefit from learning about these enhancements, which can be a valuable amenity for resale, especially for a home on a busy street.

“The pandemic has forced people to look at their home’s acoustics very differently,” says Bonnie Schnitta, founder and CEO of SoundSense, an acoustic consulting company based in Wainscott, N.Y.

Since the start of the pandemic, Schnitta’s firm has been fielding more calls from real estate professionals and homeowners about noisy plumbing, loud traffic, and household sounds amplified by open floor plans. During site visits, they’ll calculate precisely how sound reverberates in a space and offer a range of solutions, such as adding sound-absorbing fabric or foam behind wall hangings or underneath rugs. While these fixes aren’t cheap—consultation fees start at $900—many find the results are worth it.

Real estate professionals are getting help for listings with challenging acoustics. For one hard-to-sell home on a noisy street, Schnitta suggested adding a water feature in the front yard swimming pool, which, combined with a barrier, masked the road noise. The home sold two weeks later. “You can rarely completely erase road noise, but there are ways you can mitigate it,” she says.

Noise can impact resale. A 2017 realtor.com® study showed that sellers of homes within a 2-mile radius of an airport tended to see discounted prices of 13.2% compared to similar homes elsewhere in the same ZIP code. Sellers near train tracks saw average discounts of 12.3%, followed by 11.3% for nearby noisy highways.

The luxury Mozaic at Union Station Apartments in downtown Los Angeles addressed street noise issues by teaming with Veneklasen Associates, an acoustics firm, to work on soundproofing. Because 90% of outside noise entering an apartment comes through windows, behind the existing double-pane windows, they installed secondary, noise-mitigating windows that dampen sound vibrations and prevent sound leaks using recording studio-style soundproofing technology.

Window add-ons from Soundproof Windows Inc. cost $790 to $1,070 apiece, while a sliding glass door insert sells for about $1,600.

Noise reduction can be as simple as adding a $50 door seal or as complex as spending $10,000 or more for full-home soundproofing. Here’s a range of recommendations from acoustic consultants:

  • Cover hard surfaces. Hard, highly reflective surfaces are among the worst sound offenders. Use softer materials, such as area rugs with a sound-absorbing pad underneath and fabric-covered furniture, suggests Audimute, an acoustic design consultation firm.

  • Reduce echoes in open spaces. In open floor plans, sound can bounce everywhere. SoundSense and Audimute offer fabric-covered panels to add onto walls for sound absorption. Or try bookcases—even just half-full—against walls to help absorb sounds. Artwork can also be used as a sound barrier. SoundSense makes a Paradise Foam product, which can be tucked behind canvased art to mitigate noise.

  • Seal doors and windows. Soundproofing companies offer acoustic door seal kits that fit snugly around doors or window edges to reduce sound coming through cracks.

  • Add sound-absorbing shades or drapes. Roman shades, using heavy fabric, can help reduce noise, as can cellular shades and plantation shutters. Heavy drapes and curtains—think suede or velvet—are also effective at absorbing outside noise.

  • Go green. In addition to improving air quality, houseplants can help reduce noise. (They’re most beneficial on hard-surface floors.) Consider a tall, potted Norfolk pine in room corners, Schnitta says. Sound will bounce from the wall onto the foliage instead of throughout the room.

“When [buyers] walk into a home and hear an echo, it can be a turnoff,” Schnitta says. In a listing, “there are several inexpensive things you can do: Put in an area rug with a specialized pad. Put a plant in the corner, even if it’s artificial. Add a bookcase. All of this can make a big difference when it comes to sound.”


Melissa Dittmann Tracey is a contributing editor for REALTOR® Magazine.