Spending Diary Home Upkeep Is Eating My Renovation Budget

Our house in the country is under renovation just about all the time. It’s not particularly old, just particularly quirky. Much of it was built by the previous owners. Some features, such as the plumbing, are mostly jerry-rigged; others are just plain odd; and still others are beginning to fall apart. We’re fixing things a little at a time, so that when we move in permanently, seven to 10 years from now, the house will be completely renovated and the infrastructure up to code. We save money where we can, but there is ongoing tension between time and money. What can we do ourselves and what should we pay someone else to do?

Because this is a house we don’t live in full time, we delegate several maintenance tasks we would normally handle on our own. One of those chores is plowing the snow. The driveway is about 75 yards long and must be plowed before we arrive, or the path to the house would be impassable. We pay $40 for each plowing, and in the snowy winter of 2015, we spent $400 to clear the drive.

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Other than that, we celebrated the new year with a determination to hold the line on maintenance costs. But our good intentions were dashed when the upstairs bathroom pipes burst in February, even though we’re always careful to leave the heat on and the water turned off before leaving during the winter. The good news: The damage was minimal; the pipes that froze were on the outside of the wall. The bad news: The damage was minimal — too small for homeowners insurance to cover. Fixing the pipe and replacing the parts cost $250. The contractor opened the kitchen ceiling to make sure there was no mold (there wasn’t) and estimated four hours to repair the ceiling for a total of $480. Instead, after he put in a drywall patch, I took over and saved us $400.

In the time vs. money debate, the former doesn’t always win. My husband works long hours during the week, and sometimes on weekends, and there is only so much you can do around the house. Last fall, we decided to forgo chopping wood for the stove and had two cords of firewood delivered ($500). We moved enough logs into the house to last most of the winter, but the rest sat outside, covered with a tarp. We wanted to move the remainder to a small studio about 100 yards from the house and my husband concluded that the $100 cost of having someone else haul it was well worth the price.

Last year’s big project was installing a stone patio and moving and extending the balcony above it to serve as a pergola. For this we budgeted $10,000. But right away, things went awry. Removing the old balcony pulled off a chunk of siding and the existing electrical outlets were dead. The cost of additional labor and materials: $1,180. The patio work wasn’t completed by the time snow started falling. When I was finally able to contemplate the patio in April, I realized the plans drawn up independently by the stonemason, the contractor and myself didn’t mesh. So this spring, the patio was amended and extended, with drains and a gravel/stone-dust mix in the driveway to ease spring flooding and a flower bed around the perimeter edged in steel — all for an extra $2,800.

Once the weather warms, my primary job is the garden. We have about an acre and a half of lawn, and I would like to replace half of it, little by little, with flowers and bushes. I do the digging myself, although dig is something of a euphemism. The soil is typical rocky New England shale and you can’t so much dig as hack at it with a pick-ax, which makes very slow going. In the perpetual tug between time and money, I opted for time and resigned myself to spending five to seven years to bring the gardens to fruition. We budget $1,000 a year for the garden and this spring I spent about $1,020 on plantings and soil amendments. I easily could have overspent by calling in a backhoe at a rate of $350 a day, plus labor.

To prepare for next year’s beds, I’ve laid compost-covered corrugated cardboard over large swathes of lawn to kill the sod and turn into mulch. This tactic, however, complicated the lawn mowing and the guy we hired quit. So we’re back to the time-money debate again. Should we look for someone else to mow or buy a mowing tractor that I can use? In the past we’ve spent about $600 a year for mowing, so a tractor would pay for itself in four to five years. But no one seems to want this job and in the end we had no choice but to buy a tractor, with attachments, for $2,700. The next phone call was to an arborist, who wanted $2,000 to remove dead trees, dangling branches and cut off parts of a diseased tree. We opted for a less professional approach and saved $1,400.

I really wanted this year’s project to be a laundry room so I could stop dragging sheets and towels to the city and back. But we’re using our home improvement budget for maintenance again: Several windows need to be fixed, so I’ll be transporting laundry for some time to come.


Home Improvement DIY or Leave It to the Pros?

Invest a little and gain a lot. When it comes to sprucing up the home, millennials are just as likely to renovate their homes as other age groups to help increase the value. In 2014, 79 percent of millennial homeowners decorated, 62 percent renovated and 58 percent made repairs, according to a 2015 Houzz survey.

Not only can remodeling get costly, but also more difficult than you might have thought. So that leaves you two choices: know when to call the pros or when to get your hands dirty and do it yourself.

The most common mistake new homeowners make is that try to do home improvements when “they should really consult with someone,” said Sandra O’Connor, a real estate agent with Allen Tate Realtors in Greensboro, North Carolina.

So how do you know whether to call the pro or DIY? A lot of the answer has to do with your skill level. Taking on more than you can handle can end up to be a costly mistake. Here are three things you can do to help you decide:

Create a budget. It will help whether you have a general contractor planning the renovation or if you are doing it on your own.

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Research home improvement projects on websites, such as HomeAdvisor and Houzz, so you have an idea of how long the project will take and how much it will cost you.

O’Connor advised that “no matter how specific your budget is, it isn’t uncommon to discover more expenses. So allow 10 to 15 percent allowance for unexpected surprises.”

Figure out when it is worth it to hire a pro. For instance, don’t mess with plumbing and electrical projects, home improvement experts say.

Hardwood floors are also one for the professionals. “Millennials prefer hardwood floors over carpeting. They think that refinishing the floor is a simple project, but it is actually more complex,” O’Connor said.

If you’re new to home improvement, try doing decorative projects. Repainting, laying carpet, installing a newer front door, changing or adding shutters and landscaping are good beginner projects.

Focus on the return on your investment. Studies show that remodeling your kitchen and bathrooms are at the top.

According to the National Association of Realtors, the national average on a minor kitchen remodel costs $19,226 with an average payback of nearly 80 percent. The average bathroom remodel costs about $16,724 with an average return on investment of 70 percent.

“Across all generations, kitchens and bathrooms are at the top of the renovation list,” said Nino Sitchinava, the principle economist at Houzz.

13 Steps to Hiring a Contractor Who Won’t Rip You Off

With the economy stabilized and home prices rising in much of the U.S. market, homeowners who spent the recession watching home remodeling on TV may now be ready to do some real life work on their homes.

That can mean wading into a world both alien and expensive. The contractor you hire will make all the difference to the success and affordability of your project.

Rip-off artists and incompetents aren’t in the majority, but they are common enough that Spike TV has built a reality show, “Catch a Contractor,” around homeowners’ complaints of botched home construction and remodeling jobs.

So, how do you set up the best outcome for your job? Outside of TV, contractors come in all shapes, sizes and skill levels. Most are professionals who are trying their best to make a living doing work they can be proud of. A few, though, can’t be trusted to cross the street in a straight line. Follow these 13 steps to separate the pros from the bad eggs, avoid misunderstandings and expensive missteps from the outset and get the most for your money:

1. Get recommendations. The absolute best way to find a reputable and competent contractor is to ask friends, colleagues and family for the names of contractors with whom they’ve had a great experience. Send your network an email: describe your project, perhaps including your price range, and outline what you hope for in a contractor. Or just phone friends or ask people for recommendations as you run into them.

Assemble a list of the most-promising names you’ve received. Chat a bit with those who made the recommendations to find out:

  • Why do you recommend this contractor?
  • How did you meet him or her?
  • What kind of work did you have done (to eliminate high-end specialists, for example, if you are working on a rock-hard budget)?
  • Did the contractor finish on time and on budget?
  • Tell me about any problems you ran into with this contractor.

2. Verify licenses. When you have narrowed your list to two or three contractors, ask to see their business licenses. Make photocopies and verify they are current by contacting the board or agency that licenses contractors in your state.


  • Find your state’s licensing agency on its website at USA.gov.
  • The National Association of State Contractors Licensing Agencies lists licensing agencies for most states.

3. Track down complaints and disciplinary actions. When calling your state’s licensing agency, ask how to find complaints and government disciplinary actions against contractors.

“What You Should Know Before You Hire a Contractor,” a consumer publication by the Virginia Board for Contractors, has plenty of information for homeowners everywhere. In some states, you can check a contractor’s status online. Washington state, for example, lets you verify that a contractor’s workers’ compensation insurance is paid up and find out if the contractor is registered, bonded and insured or has state licensing infractions.

4. Screen for legal problems. Look for lawsuits involving a contractor:

  • Check at your county’s district court for lawsuits naming the contractor or business you are considering using.
  • Search online for mentions of a contractor’s name and the business name.

5. Verify insurance. Contractors need two types of insurance:

  • Liability coverage compensates the homeowner in case the work fails.
  • Workers’ compensation insurance (or industrial insurance) covers workers injured at your job site.

Regardless what a paper policy says, call the agent or state agency to confirm that the premiums are paid up and the policy is in force. If industrial insurance is not paid up, depending on your state’s laws, you could be liable for the unpaid premiums in case of an accident.

Ask each contractor you are considering for a copy of evidence of his or her liability insurance, including the phone number of the agent who sold the policy.

6. Conduct interviews. Sit down for a half-hour or more with each contractor you consider. Talk over the job, the problems, their expectations, their credentials and experience. The Federal Trade Commission has a detailed list of questions to ask.

7. Turn your back on temptation. It’s terribly tempting to hire unlicensed or uninsured contractors. Doing things by the book costs money, and contractors who skip the formalities can charge less.

You might get away unscathed if you hire an unlicensed business. Many homeowners do. But here are a few of the risks:

  • You’ll get no state help pursuing a bad contractor. In Virginia, for example, using unlicensed contractors makes you ineligible for monetary compensation from a state fund in case of improper or dishonest conduct.
  • You could be held responsible as the de facto general contractor and thus responsible for any defective work on your home for many years after you’ve sold it to someone else.
  • You could be on the hook financially for injuries on your job site. Your obligation to pay an injured worker’s medical bills could last for years.

8. Check references. Ask each contractor you’re considering for three references; take the time to check them, confirming that the contractor really did do the jobs he claims he did. Find out when the work was done, how long it took and if it was finished on time. You can learn plenty by also asking open-ended questions like, “What was it like to work with Linda and her crew?”

9. View work they’ve done. Building trades contractors often carry photos to show the quality of their workmanship. It’s fun to see them, but also ask the contractor’s references if you can see the work. An in-person look affords the chance to confirm quality in a way you cannot with photos.

10. Sign a contract. Make sure that you and your contractor have the same understanding of the work to be done. Ideally, you or the contractor should write a detailed list of each task with steps to be completed and dates for milestones.HouseLogic explains how to draw up the contract and what to include.

11. Be careful with upfront payments. Your contractor may ask for a portion of the payment upfront. That’s potentially reasonable. But agreeing on too large an upfront payment presents a risk for you. If you are asked to cover the cost of materials, see if you can pay the supplier directly. This keeps you in control of the money and lets you know if the contractor is sharing any discount with you or charging you a mark-up on materials.

Contact consumer protection authorities in your state to find out about any restrictions or rules contractors must abide by. Some states regulate what a contractor may charge upfront. In California, for instance, it’s no more than 10 percent, according to U.S. News.

A payment schedule of 30 percent at the start, 30 percent in the middle and 30 percent upon completion is not unusual. However, it is safest for you to link payments to milestones of work completed.

HouseLogic offers these guidelines:

  • First payment should be no more than 10 percent of the total job.
  • Final payment should be enough money — up to one-third of the total cost of the project — to make sure the contractor returns to correct unfinished details.

Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson suggests waiting a couple weeks before closing your books on a job. “Make sure you like it and then make the last payment,” he advises.

12. Beware of low-ball bids. When asking several contractors to make competitive bids, be wary of any that come in far lower than the rest. A little lower is fine, but the “too-good-to-be-true” rule applies here: There’s probably something wrong with a radically lower bid. It often means there will be expensive surprises later in the project.

13. Protect against tail-dragging. It’s not unreasonable for a contractor to juggle more than one project at a time. But this can get out of hand, leaving homeowners waiting and waiting for their job to be completed.

To ensure prompt completion of your job, build a penalty for late completion into your contract. In fact, you might add an incentive payment for an early wrap-up.

Relax your mind with fresh garden

Saturation will be daily activities that you do for sure a time will appear in yourself. You need a tranquility to restore calm the emotions and thoughts. many people vent saturation with go outing. If your condition does not allow it to go out of the house, then there is one place in the house, in which the place can make your mind to become more fresh. home garden can be an alternative base from which to appease the mind. Now how to design a garden that looks beautiful and convenient to refresh your mind? wooden gazebos will provide some information about the minimalist garden.

taking care of the garden well and always keep the beauty of the park is an important thing that must be considered. To add more beauty to the garden house, then you can build a gazebo. minimalist gazebo is useful place to relax, socialize with family while enjoying the soothing view of the garden. Gazebo is a building shaped like a small shack which housed apart from the main house and certainly open space like a park or backyard.  As a handy place to relax, rest. Comfort on the unique design and appearance also should look appropriately. So when you relax, then the gazebo could actually provide a real solution to you. For the problem of form, choose one that is really a suit for you and your family. If your garden page does not have sufficient area, the gazebo minimalist theme alone, to fit the area of ​​the park that is in your home.

if you feel it difficult to make gazebo by yourself at home. wooden gazebos could be the alternative to get a gazebo with the design that will you like. we provide various kinds of gazebo with a unique design, and will definitely suit with your garden at home. the price we offer is also quite cheap. so what are you waiting for? please contact us.

Moving Out Do’s & Don’ts

Moving to a new place? Congratulations! Before getting started on making new apartment arrangements, it’s important to make sure all is set with your current place. When moving into a rental, it’s recommended that residents fill out a written checklist with their landlord or building management that details any issues with the dwelling; otherwise, the landlord can hold you responsible for the repairs.

Now that you’re ready to move out, your goal is to return the apartment to the condition as it was when you moved in so you can get your entire security deposit back! Here are some do’s and don’ts that will help.

Do Give Ample Notice

Your lease lists all legal obligations to your landlord. Look closely at the termination clause and know exactly how much notice you’re expected to give when you decide to move out. Your rental agreement should spell out the required notice before vacating the apartment. For most rentals, 30 days’ notice is standard, though 60 days’ notice is gaining ground in some areas. This is true of leases and month-to-month rentals as well. Your notice should be written and dated, including the date you intend to be out of the apartment, and delivered timely to the owner, with a copy for yourself.

Do Clean

Leaving the apartment squeaky clean will go a long way towards making your landlord happy. This means giving it deep attention; scrub floors, sinks and showers, wipe down blinds and the insides of cabinets and drawers. Doing a little at a time in the weeks leading up to moving can make it easier.

Of course, you can hire someone to clean for you instead. If this is in your budget, go for it and to focus on other tasks.

Don’t Leave On Bad Terms

Regardless if you’ve been a great tenant for years, the property owner can be upset if you leave on bad terms. No matter what, do not sneak out! You don’t want to be one of those people. You know the type, the people that sneak out in the middle of the night, leaving a pile of trash and unpaid bills. It’s illegal to do this in most areas, not to mention you need a good rental reference for your next place. If you’re moving into a new rental, this landlord will likely be the first person contacted for a reference, so try and keep things amicable, even if there are disagreements.

Do Document the Condition Upon Leaving

Take photos after everything is removed and the cleaning is done. If a dispute arises, you can document that you left the premises in good condition. You might ask your landlord to perform a walk-through inspection a few weeks before you move out. If there are any issues they’d like addressed, you’ll have a chance to correct it. Always ask if there is anything further you need to do to get your full deposit back.

Do Fix What You Can

If you’ve caused damage to the rental, fix it. Remove nails and spackle small holes. Filling holes in the walls is a must, and check your lease to see if you’re required to do more in the way of painting. Some landlords demand that renters paint the house “renter’s white” upon moving out.

If your kids have spilled grape juice on the new carpet or put a baseball through a window, be honest. Either fix it or pay to have it done. Make sure repairs are compliant with the lease and to the landlord’s liking or else minor damage might be perceived as major.

Don’t Sublet Without Approval

Subletting is not always an option. If your lease specifically says you cannot sublet, don’t bother even trying. It’s also important to note that you need to find someone you can trust completely because you will still be legally responsible for the property. The exception is if your landlord allows the new renter to apply, pay a security deposit and sign their own lease. If you sublet, you also have to make sure the person will pay you on time so you can pay the landlord. You may want to consider having their rent due on a day mid-month to ensure you have it on time.

Don’t Forget to Move Your Utilities

Call each utility service provider to transfer or discontinue the utility service. Give them the exact date you need the service turned off or transferred by. Ideally, you should call them at least a month in advance. Ask them what you need to do and whether you will need to be present when the utilities at your old address are turned off. You don’t want to be stuck paying the new tenant’s utility bills after you’ve moved out.

Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute

Whether you’re DIY moving or hiring a moving company, don’t wait until just few days before your move out date to coordinate the move out process. Trucks rental companies may be all out of trucks and moving companies may be fully booked. Don’t be that tenant who makes it difficult for the landlord to repaint the apartment in time for the new tenant to move in.

8 Home Improvement Projects To Cut Costs

It’s time to start planning home improvements that can save you money and increase the value of your home. While you likely have a few exciting remodeling projects planned, it’s important to also incorporate cost-saving upgrades like energy efficient appliances and insulation, smart home technologies and water-conserving landscaping that will help you reach your financial goals for years to come.

If you want to decrease your utility bills, cut home service costs and invest in the long-term value of your property, try these 8 budget-friendly home improvement projects.

1. Rethink Landscaping

According to the Chicago Tribune, the average American spends over 70 hours a year on lawn care and at least $347 a year on lawn and gardening products, not including the cost of watering. Whether your yard is large or small, you’d probably love to cut costs and lessen your environmental impact by being smart about landscaping. Consider hiring an irrigation expert to re-assess how you’re watering your lawn and overhaul your sprinkler or drip hose system to increase efficiency.

Xeriscaping, a type of landscaping that eliminates the need for supplemental watering, is a great alternative to a lawn. If you still crave the traditional green patch of lawn, fake grass products are becoming more and more popular and are an affordable option that cut down on maintenance and keep your lawn looking great year-round.

2. Increase Home Safety and Security

Many home owners aren’t aware of how much money they can save on their home insurance premiums by making simple, affordable improvements to their home like installing a home security system. By making your home safer from break-ins, fire damage and natural disasters, you can significantly reduce your liability and give yourself peace of mind. Install storm shutters, reinforce your roof, invest in heavy-duty gutters and downspouts and update your carbon monoxide and fire alarms.

3. Improve Insulation

Fixing drafts and insulating doors, floors and walls can save you tons of money on your monthly utility bills and keep you more comfortable in your home. The easiest solution is to upgrade your weather stripping, door skirts and install foam gaskets behind light switches and outlets. Some older homes may benefit greatly from insulating existing stud cavities with injection foam or other types of insulation that can be installed after home construction.

While this project is often done in the fall, it’s a shame to wait. These type of improvements not only save you money on your heating bill in colder months, but also help to keep precious cool air from escaping your home in spring and summer.

4. Smart Heating and Cooling

Connected Thermostats like Nest, Lyric and Ecobee3 conserve energy by learning your heating and cooling preferences and automatically adjusting to keep your home comfortable year-round. They can be conveniently controlled from your smart phone and are very affordable.

Smart thermostats have an auto-scheduling feature that allows users to decrease the heating or cooling of their home while they’re asleep or away. Many also include a geo-fencing technology that uses your smart phone to recognize when you’re near your home and anticipate your arrival by adjusting the temperature to your preferences. By adapting the temperature of your home often, these thermostats can cut your energy consumption by up to 15%.

5. Upgrade to Energy Efficient Appliances

One of the easiest ways to cut water and electricity costs is to invest in an energy efficient washer, dryer, dishwasher or refrigerator. While you pay more initially for energy-conserving models, they’re a rewarding long-term investment and pay for themselves over time. ENERGY STAR certified appliances are generally a great place to start if you aren’t familiar with how to choose the best appliances for your home. They offer convenient guides to help you compare features based on your needs.

6. Update Plumbing Fixtures

According the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the average American family spends $1,100 per year in water costs, but can save $350 by retrofitting fixtures. Low-flow sink faucets, shower heads and toilets use a more efficient type of high-pressure aerator that use less water, but deliver the same water pressure and performance.

Low-flow fixtures are relatively quick and easy to install and you could even qualify for a rebate if you purchase an EPA-approved WaterSense fixture. If you don’t want to buy new fixtures, you can also convert many existing faucets or shower heads by incorporating a more efficient aerator, which only costs around $10 at most improvement stores.

7. Perform Routine Maintenance and Inspections

Preventing damage to your home before it happens is a rewarding way to save money and guarantees your property will hold its value for years to come. Conduct a yearly maintenance inspection of your home, checking critical areas like the roof, foundation, wiring and plumbing for issues. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, always consult a professional. It’s less expensive to address a problem quickly than waiting until it gets serious and requires extensive materials and labor to repair.

8. Incorporate Renewable Energy

Incorporating alternative energy sources to power your home not only saves you money, but also decreases your carbon footprint and helps reduce environmental pollution. The cost of installing solar panels has dramatically decreased in recent years. Many companies now offer convenient leasing programs that help to lessen your initial investment and provide free maintenance.

Solar Panel Installation Calculators can help you understand if your home is a good candidate for solar based on the design features and size of your home, location and weather patterns in your area.

6 Tasks That Might Surprise A New Homeowner

After all of the paperwork, phone calls and endless packing, you finally have the keys to your new home. As a first-time homebuyer, the most exciting part is unlocking the door and taking the first steps inside, realizing that it’s all yours.

But as the dust settles and unpacking begins, there are a few essentials to keep in mind as you make your house a home.

1. Get to Know the Space

Along with your new home, you likely have appliances, fixtures and other service items that were included in the sale. Before running a load of laundry for the first time, take some time to learn about what you will be working with day-to-day. This is not just so you’re aware of their functions, but so you have the certainty that you’re utilizing all items in the safest manner.

Although you have had your home thoroughly inspected by a licensed home inspector, consider having all your utilities checked by a service professional. This can help avoid any further surprises as you begin settling into your new home. Additionally, it’s a smart idea to go through your breaker box and relabel appropriately. Previous owners may have labeled rooms to be family specific, so it will take the guesswork out of where “Johnny’s room” might be when the circuit needs to be restored.

Once you’ve become familiar with your space, it’s a great time to make a home maintenance checklist starting with things to inspect weekly, monthly and yearly to avoid any unwelcomed surprises

2. Give Your Home A Thorough Cleaning

Before moving all your belongings in, it’s best to give your new house a floor-to-ceiling cleaning. If you’re moving into an older home, there may be areas that haven’t been cleaned for a long time. Give yourself and your home a fresh start by creating a checklist of all the rooms and items you’d like to give a good scrub. A new homeowner might be surprised at the extensity of what needs to be detailed, but it’s crucial to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Here are a few things to consider when starting your cleaning to-do list.

  • Disinfect all knobs, pulls and surfaces in the house. Pay special attention to areas where food or hygiene items may have been such as bathtubs, basins, refrigerators and cabinets.
  • A deep clean of any carpet will help remove stains and dirt. By the way, it’s recommended that carpets are sufficiently cleaned every 12-18 months. This is something you can do yourself. However, depending on the method and chemicals used, we recommend hiring a professional.
  • If your walls could talk, I bet they would say “clean me!” Even before painting, it’s a good idea to give your walls an adequate scrub. This is something that can be done with a few helping hands and a couple of days if you’re doing the whole house. Don’t forget about baseboards and moldings. If you’re concerned about what chemicals to use while safely cleaning, consult a professional.
  • Don’t forget about air quality. Ducts and vents can become dirty and create indoor air pollution. Consider getting your air quality tested and scheduling a cleaning.

3. Make the Most of Your Space

You don’t really know what you have until you start using it. One of the most surprising factors in moving into a new home is how much stuff you actually own. Maybe you’re coming from an apartment or shared living space, so an empty house looks like plenty of opportunity to gain storage. When the boxes start arriving, however, it’s possible you underestimated how many things you really had versus how much storage space is provided. This is usually prominent in the kitchen and bathroom. As pots and pans begin to go into place, you may find some cabinets are awkwardly shaped or there just isn’t enough space for oversized items.

Consider some space-saving techniques for the kitchen and bathroom, or possibly including a few extra cabinets in your space.

4. Secure Your Home

As exciting as it is to have keys in hand, have you considered who else might have access to your house? A new homeowner may overlook this, as oftentimes, a landlord or building owner has had a say in what locks to use. Old locks may pose security issues as well, as rust and poor quality may impact building safety. This is a task you could do yourself, or hire a locksmith to accomplish. Be aware of any association rules on appearance of locks if you intend to buy equipment yourself.

As much as a new lock can provide additional safety for your home, new homeowners should consider a home security or home automation system.

5. Don’t Forget About the Exterior

With a new house hopefully comes a new space to grow, literally. With all the excitement on the actual home itself, some new homeowners may look past the upkeep of a yard. Regardless of size, it’s time to invest in a lawnmower and trimmers, at the least. If you’re looking to do more than just basic upkeep, consulting a landscaper is a useful investment. The average reported costs of professional landscaping range from $545 to $3,979, but it all depends on the project.

It’s also a good opportunity to brush up on your gardening skills and create a yard worth spending time in. Haven’t you always dreamed of a spacious area full of lush flowers, or growing your own food for the table? The possibilities are endless! Always remember to call 811 before starting any project that involves digging.

6. Create A Space Uniquely You

Once all safety, security and health concerns are put to rest, it’s time to create a space made just for you! What do you envision for your home? Will a simple paint job create an environment worth spending time in or do you plan on remodeling? How about decorating that finished basement you’ve always wanted?

But before you hang that first frame or start to paint, invest in a stud finder and a quality measuring tape so you have the assurance that you’re doing everything perfectly and only impacting the area you wish to change. Now is the time to create your dream home

6 Tips For Picking Your Cabinet Colors

There’s no doubt that the kitchen is one of the most important rooms in your house. We spend a lot of time in our kitchens, especially when eating and drinking are the main focal points of gatherings and celebrations.

Luckily, having a beautiful kitchen doesn’t have to mean shelling out thousands of dollars for a full upgrade. Small changes like refreshing the colors of your cabinets can go a long way in giving your kitchen a fresh, modern look at little cost. These six tips will help make your decision easy when choosing the right kitchen cabinet color and turn an outdated kitchen into your favorite room in the house.

  1. Decide On A Style for Your Kitchen

The underlying style of your kitchen is one of the most important steps when deciding on a paint color for your cabinets. If you’re going for a cozy country look, light colors like white, gray and pale green or blue will be a perfect complement to complete a rustic theme. Keep the décor simple, with a few muted accent pieces or vintage-inspired cookware items used as decoration. Modern themes will look great with bold, saturated colors like reds and black, and they’ll pair nicely with streamlined accents and bright décor.

  1. Pick A Palette that Compliments Wall Colors

If you’re not undergoing a complete kitchen overhaul, it’s important to work with what you have. Determine what undertones are on your current wall color and be sure to pick a color that will be complementary. If your current wall color has warm tones, it’s probably best to stick with cabinet colors that are also on the warm side. Your local paint or hardware store will have color swatches on display that you can bring home to help you find the right palette to match.

  1. Consider Your Current Appliance Colors

If you have stainless steel appliances, you’re in luck! Stainless steel goes with almost any color imaginable. But if you have dark appliances, picking a cabinet color to match can be a little trickier. The main thing you want to keep in mind when picking a cabinet color to match black appliances is to incorporate pops of contrasting color throughout the kitchen.

For example, dark cabinets will go well with dark appliances if you have complementary light countertops or a light wall color. Light-colored cabinets can also complement dark appliances if you have dark countertops to coordinate with the dark appliances. As you begin to browse the color options, you’ll find there is a surprising amount of colors that black appliances go with!

  1. Go Bold

The kitchen is the perfect place to embrace bold colors. Retro-inspired colors are back in a big way for cabinet colors. Red, blue, orange, yellow and purple cabinet colors are also popping up in kitchens everywhere, giving your space a cheerful and contemporary look. These bold colors pair well with sleek, simple hardware, so the focus remains on the daring cabinet colors.

Two-tone cabinets make going bold seem less overwhelming by having hints of bright color throughout the kitchen. You can even add barely-there color to an island while keeping your main cabinets neutral, or create a focal point around kitchen windows with bright cabinets framing the outdoor view.

  1. Neutral Colors Are Always in Style

White, gray and beige are some of the most popular choices for kitchen cabinet color and for good reason! These colors will never go out of style. Choosing neutral cabinet colors allows you to add pops of color with accessories or cabinet hardware. Or you can go basic, by keeping everything monochromatic for a dramatic, rustic-inspired look. When it’s time to update a neutral kitchen, all you’ll need to do is swap out new accessories, making this color choice easy and inexpensive to maintain.

  1. Invest in Quality Paint

When purchasing the paint for your cabinets, you want to be sure you pick a quality paint that will endure lots of touching and washing. Food can splatter on cabinets and greasy hands will often come in direct contact with the paint. For this reason, you’ll want to choose oil-based or semi-gloss paints for kitchen cabinets. These paint types will wipe down easily and hold up well against daily wear and tear. You also want to be sure it’s a non-blocking paint, so it won’t stick together when the cabinet doors are closed, causing peeling and chipping.

Top 10 Small Bathroom Decor Ideas To Steal

If you’re the owner of a small bathroom, then you know how hard it is to make it look bigger and function better. Getting to your end goal may be a tough challenge, but it’s one I encourage you to attempt.

A new year means new must-have trends and fresh decorating ideas for your home. Don’t stress out, this is all good news! Instead of focusing on the size of your bath, you’ll be able to enjoy the beauty of it. See 10 small bathroom décor ideas you have to try right away.

1. Remove All Clutter

As a homeowner, clutter should be your number one enemy. It creates mess, stress and disorder in the home. If this is something you struggle with, then it’s time to make a change.

Every single thing in your small bath should have a place to live. Unless an item is in use or made to sit on the sink, it shouldn’t be taking up space on the counter. You have countless options for organizing and decluttering including; cabinets above the toilet, shelves, hooks, mirrors with storage and cute baskets. Decorating a small bath is a tough job. Don’t make it harder on yourself by refusing to get organized.

2. Add Natural Light

Natural light is a decorating tool that’s not only able to transform a room from drab to fab, but it’s also a free resource (once you’ve got the window in place)! Installing new windows is one way to open up your space and it’s a design upgrade worth the investment.

Many homeowners are opting to add a small, foggy window in their showers to draw in more light, or installing windows to fill bare walls. If you have a small budget then this may not be as practical of an option for you. Don’t worry, there are other tricks that’ll give you a similar result, which I’ll touch on in this article.


3. Be Choosy of Color

Regardless of budget, a new paint job is a project we can all do. Whether you make it a DIY project or you hire a pro, it’s a task you should put at the top of your small bath decorating list.

Bright white, gray and leafy green paint are excellent choices for a tiny space. Your bathroom will appear more cheerful and look bigger with these hues. On the other hand, if you’re a fan of darker colors, then consider approaching your interior design with paint that creates a dramatic effect.

4. Paint a Floral Mural

Paint not only comes in different colors, but also in various patterns and designs. I love the idea of adding an elegant stencil to your walls. Be daring and see how painting a floral mural brings new life to your bath.

If painting wall stencils isn’t your forte, then reach out and find a professional who can. You’ll not only be adding beauty to your bathroom, but you’ll be incorporating your own personal touch.

5. Use Accents

The use of color or décor accents is a detail that’s often overlooked. Taking the time to carefully consider accent pieces and placement will have a great impact on the look of your bathroom.

For example, the bathroom pictured above is all about the accents. When you look at this bathroom, the first thing you probably think is how beautiful the décor flows, and not the size.

6. Exude Glamour

Glamour is not only a girl’s best friend, but also a small bathroom’s bff. Your goal is to draw the eye to something other than the size of the bathroom, by using attractive décor and colors.

Create an exciting environment that pulls you in and makes you want to soak up and just enjoy the room. You don’t have to spend a fortune either. See our tips for making your home look more expensive on a dim

7. Install Dramatic Tile

Eye-catching tile is a design feature we can all appreciate. There’s something for everyone given the array of styles, patterns, colors and textures currently offered.

The best part about tile is that it can pretty much be placed anywhere in the bathroom. Installing a tile backsplash and counters, large tile floors or bold shower tiles are just a couple of ways to work tile into your bathroom design.

8. Include Fancy Woodwork

Wood has a way of bringing a timeless elegance to any room of the house. It’s one of those materials we often only consider installing as flooring. Wood accents, cabinets and borders are simple ways to incorporate wood. Woodwork is admired for its flaws, tones and detailing, so don’t be afraid to pick out pieces that stand out and make a statement.

9. Rethink Your Lighting

Your bathroom is a special place in the home because it’s where you get ready for the day and make yourself beautiful. The one helpful upgrade we often overlook is our lighting.

Light fixtures, lighting styles and blub types are small features that’ll make a big difference in a small bath. We’ve got the perfect guide to assist you in replacing, selecting and installing your new bathroom lighting.

10. Pick a Perfect Focal Point

The one tip you want to make sure you adopt is to pick a focal point to build around. Mirrors, light fixtures, sinks and artwork are all viable options. People will be too busy admiring the gorgeous eye candy to worry about the size of your bathroom.

How Basement Underpinning Can Increase Your Home’s Value

With the cost of housing increasing each year, buyers are always looking for the most value for their money. Smart homeowners recognize that they can add house value through bathroom and kitchen remodeling, basement waterproofing or increasing square footage with basement underpinning.

Utilitarian basements are no longer sufficient for today’s family needs, and older floor plans are typically considered old fashioned and impractical unless improvements have been made. Even with basement remodel costs added in, you’ll get top dollar and a great return on investment when selling your home if it includes a trendy entertainment room, office space or kitchenette. Let’s explore how basement underpinning can help.

What is Basement Underpinning?

Underpinning refers to the process of reinforcing an existing, unstable foundation or lowering the basement floor to increase the overall ceiling height. In both cases, the basement floor and soil underneath is excavated out and replaced at a lower level.

Today’s underpinning methods have remained very similar to those done a hundred years ago. The uses and benefits, however, are very different.

What is Required?

The main purpose for basement underpinning is either to strengthen the existing foundation or to vertically extend it. Either way, you’ll need to determine the reason for the work. In both cases, you’ll increase your property’s value. A crumbling or unstable foundation will need to be repaired before selling the home; and by adding more usable living space in the basement, potential buyers are more likely to pay a higher price.

Depending on the purpose of the project, one of three methods can be used:

  1. Traditional mass for shallow underpinning’ as well as beam and base that incorporates concrete beams for more support.
  2. Mini-piled with steel support beams that rest on more stable ground.
  3. Sectional excavation where grout is used to fill the area between the old and new concrete.

What are the Benefits?

If you’re trying to decide which remodeling project will provide the best return on your investment at resale, basement underpinning wins hands down. Here’s why:

  • More Value: When you open up your basement for more practical uses such as a game room, home office, media center or in-law apartment, you widen the appeal to a greater number of potential buyers. This will sell your home more quickly and at a higher price than other homes in your area.
  • Improved Structural Integrity: No matter the reason for underpinning your basement – creating more head room or accommodating an upper level expansion – the process will strengthen your home’s structure and extend its lifespan. Foundation damage can be caused from aging, soil type, extreme weather and poor workmanship. The new foundation will strengthen your entire home and reduce the risk a major structural problems.
  • Uncover Hidden Problems: The process of lowering the basement floor requires removal of a portion of the foundation and exposure of hidden mechanicals like plumbing, electrical, insulation and HVAC. This will allow for easy inspection and repair damages quickly.
  • A Healthier & Drier Home: Older basements can develop cracks and leaks over time, allowing water seepage, mold growth and musty odors. Many types of mold have been proven to cause serious health risks and the underpinning process can rectify any problem areas. You’ll improve air quality and have an opportunity to install significant waterproofing components. Incorporating a sump pump and battery backup in the newly added room will keep the area dry and free from damaging mold and mildew.
  • Added Square Footage: So often, homeowners searching for extra space opt for building above-ground additions instead of using the area right below their feet. A two-story home with a low-ceiling basement could potentially gain up to 50% more usable area by underpinning instead of building out. In addition, basement lowering can be a cost-effective and time-saving alternative to constructing another room.
  • Rental Income: It may be possible to incorporate a new or expanded entrance to your basement during the underpinning process. Doing so would allow you to turn your new space into a complete apartment. Not only would the extra income provide value to your home, but it would also help you recover the cost of the renovation work.
  • Energy Savings: While a good percentage of energy is used for heating and cooling your home, an unfinished basement and insufficient insulation can cause inefficient energy usage throughout the year. Lowering your basement can provide an opportunity to incorporate more effective insulation methods that can help reduce heating and cooling bills and add even more value to your home.

Everything You Need to Know About Tile, Hardwood & Carpet Flooring

Besides the kitchen and bathroom, a home’s flooring is frequently chosen as the next home remodeling project. Over the years, new options have come to life, like cork or bamboo flooring, but one preference that remains a top choice across America is tile.

Whether it’s the abundance of tile options available, their durable nature or ease in maintenance, tile floors remain the most popular selection on the market. Despite carpet’s prominence or the sudden rise in hardwood flooring, tile flooring offers unique advantages these other flooring options do not.

Based on installation, repairs, cost, durability and design, I will show you why tile floors are better than carpet or hardwood.


Installing Tile Flooring

Tile floors work great for bathrooms, kitchens and hallways because they can withstand the everyday wear and tear that comes with these highly trafficked rooms. Installing tile may be a DIY task for some ambitious homeowners, but there is a lot of labor involved as well as materials, like a wet saw. To professionally install tile floors, expect to pay around $3,724 for 500 square feet.

Installing Hardwood Flooring

Along with it’s popularity, hardwood flooring costs continue to rise as well. The costs of materials and labor for the installation of hardwood floors will depend substantially on what type of wood is used. Solid planks are harder to install than engineered wood with tongues and grooves, so that could affect overall expenses as well. However, expect to pay roughly $4,840 for 500 square feet of materials, labor and delivery.

Installing Carpet Flooring

Carpeting adds a warm feeling to any home, but more and more homeowners are starting to associate it with a dated design. The price of carpet can fluctuate substantially depending on the quality of the material and how much carpet you need, so it can be hard to pin down the exact price. Installation is also tricky because many companies include installation in the cost of the carpet. On average, expect to pay $2,969 for 500 square feet of medium-quality carpet and installation labor.


When it comes to repairs, a homeowner can’t only look at the average costs reported. One must consider the lifetime of each flooring option, the traffic the floors sees and the extent of the damage. Despite the fact that the average cost for tile repairs ($300-$600) is more than hardwood or carpet ($150-$300), tile is more often looked as a cheaper alternative.

When repairing tile floors, you or the pro must ensure that the concrete holding the tile down is level with existing tiles, in addition to maintaining the existing pattern. The more complex this is, the more the repair will cost. Because tiles are laid one by one, a professional should be able to remove just a couple of tiles and replace them. For a simple repair of a few tiles in a floor, expect to pay about $100 in materials, depending on the amount of tiles as they are priced individually. Overall, with labor, this is a $300 to $600 job for an established, reputable business.

Hardwood Repairs

Repairing a hardwood floor usually means having the floor refinished. Expect to pay anywhere from $3 to $4 per square foot for a true professional. The end result is a floor that looks virtually brand new for a fraction of what a new floor would cost. Other types of wood floors offer other options that are more cost efficient. For example, a floating wooden floor involves no glue or adhesive during installation – the pieces simply snap together. Although it can be tedious, repairing a wooden floor of this kind is much less expensive – perhaps the cost of a box of flooring plus labor – and should not cost more than $250.

Carpet Repairs

Whether you’re removing a tough stain, patching up or repairing carpet seams, homeowners can expect to pay between $150-$250 for carpet repairs. However, despite it’s lower cost, bear in mind that cleaning carpet requires much more maintenance than hardwood or tile, driving up their total costs. Additionally, carpet can seem dated quicker than that of tile or hardwood.


No matter what flooring option you go with, there are numerous types to choose from.

Tile Flooring Types

  • Bullets
  • Ceramic
  • Porcelain
  • Terra Cotta
  • Glazed
  • Mosaic
  • Quarry
  • Stone
  • Granite
  • Marble
  • Slate

To see the full breakdown of each, please see Types of Floor Tile.

Hardwood Flooring Types

  • Oak
  • Mahogany
  • Lyptus
  • Ash
  • Hickory
  • Pine
  • Cherry
  • Brazilian Cherry
  • Walnut
  • Rosewood
  • Maple

To see the full breakdown of each, please see So You Chose Hardwood Floors.

Carpet Flooring Types

Carpet flooring doesn’t depend as much on type as it does on design. That is why I found 8 Clever and Bizarre Carpet Designs.


No matter what floor you go with, each will need a regular cleaning schedule to maintain it’s glossy, warm or inviting touch.

Cleaning Tile Floors

Much like hardwood, a majority of homeowners will choose to clean their tile floors themselves. After all, some good TLC is usually all you need to keep your tile floors looking as good as new. However, there are special machines that pros use to clean those tougher stains caught in the tile or grout.

By using a large steam cleaning machine and a special mix of chemicals, professional cleaners will be able to restore the luster of tiles. Other pros use their hands to get to those tough stains. Either way, if you hire a professional, plan on paying approximately $401 for cleaning tile floors.

Cleaning Hardwood Floors

Few homeowners choose to have their hardwood floors professionally cleaned. Since basic care of hardwood includes dusting, mopping or vacuuming, many choose to do it themselves. However, if you go with a professional, plan on paying a similar amount to that of tile floors.

Cleaning Carpet

One of the biggest drawbacks of carpet is the challenge of cleaning some carpet materials. Although the specific costs of carpet cleaning will vary depending on the type of cleaning needed, the severity of the stain and the size of the carpeted area, most homeowners paid $167 to have their carpets professionally cleaned.

Keep in mind, carpet demands more cleaning than that of tile or hardwood, so while the average is less, the number of cleans over the carpet’s lifetime is usually more.

Other Tile Advantages

  • Ceramic tile is not that cold. Ceramic tile reflects the room temperature and holds onto that temperature for a long time. At times it can be cold. There are products out there that can be installed prior to tile installation that can warm up a floor.
  • Floor tiles are expected to be the fastest growing ceramic tiles at an estimated CAGR of 9.4% from 2012 to 2018 (Transparency Market Research).
  • U.S. demand for decorative tile is predicted to rise approximately 7% per year through 2017, reaching over 3 billion square feet (Lori Kirk-Rolley, vice president of brand marketing for Dal-Tile).
  • Tile is waterproof. However, the grout joints connecting the tile do allow water transmission. This is where an improper installation can result in a structural problem and a costly replacement. The best thing to do for the grout is to seal it and keep any cracks caulked. Simple maintenance will give your tile a long life.
  • Tile floors do not squeak, which can occur with hardwood.

A Gentleman’s Guide To Styling A Man Cave

Every guy needs a man cave. A place to unwind, relax and get away from the outside world. Whether it’s built in the basement, the garage or a spare bedroom, the modern “mantuary” should feel comfortable and industrious without sacrificing style. Think refined leather couches, an antique billiard table and a mid-century bar cart for his finest whiskey. But, where to begin?  From the floor to the finishing touches, here are a few tips from Lofty to bring elegance and style to your man cave.


When styling your man cave, it’s important to research and carefully select every detail of the space, including the floors. Whether you prefer the timeless look of wood flooring or the soft feel of a plush carpet, be sure to choose flooring that is easy to clean and fits your needs.

For a polished, sophisticated feel, consider installing hardwood floors. We recommend oak flooring, which is resistant to dents and deep scratches. It’s a perfect option for those who don’t want to invest in an area rug. Mahogany flooring is also a great choice, as it is not only classic and timeless, but highly durable and water resistant.

If you’re man cave is located in the basement of your home, you may want to install carpeting. A carpet will not only add charm and warmth to your space, but help reduce sound echo. If you do decide to install carpeting, it must be properly cared for. We recommend durable carpets, made of burlap or nylon, which will clean up nicely after a rowdy sport’s night. For a touch of class, try placing a large oriental rug on top of your carpet.


How you choose to decorate your walls contributes significantly to the overall look and feel of your man cave. For a bold and masculine vibe, build an accent wall. Cover your wall in stones, or experiment with textured or patterned wallpaper. If you prefer a more classic, timeless look, consider adding burlap-wrapped panels trimmed with bronze or warm wood paneling.

Decorate the walls with artwork, posters or other treasured collectibles. If you prefer a more contemporary feel, try either of these silkscreens by Ken Price. For a more classic look, go for traditional sporting art scenes.

Remember, your walls should display your passions, interests and past experiences. Love to travel? Consider hanging an antique map or a travel poster. Movie buff? Try out a vintage film poster. Use shelves or a display case to exhibit trophies, collectibles, and other memorabilia. After all, a man cave is a better place for your antique toy car collection than a living room.


When choosing furniture for your man cave, buy high quality pieces that are crafted with care. Consider the scale of your room and choose items that not only fit the space, but also multipurpose.

Seating is the most basic and important part of any mantuary. After all, you’ll need a place to sit and relax while watching the big game or playing Xbox with your buddies. Leather seating such as club chairs, sofas or stools will add a touch of elegance to any space. The pieces should be comfortable and if they’re properly cared for, the leather will distress nicely over time.

Prefer function over fashion? Consider adding a futon. This versatile piece of furniture can be converted into a bed, while allowing the seating space of a normal sofa. If your man cave is on the larger side, consider purchasing a sectional sofa. Sectional sofas can be set up in multiple configurations, making them an excellent option for rooms with more square footage. For parties, stackable chairs are easy to keep on hand for extra seating without taking up too much space.

Seating aside, you should also invest in a simple, solid wood dining table that could easily serve as a workspace, as well as a gaming table or impromptu bar. We recommend West Elm’s Industrial Oak and Steel table, because it can be bought with matching benches that can slide underneath when unused. Style the table top with minimal, but useful objects, like a small beer stein doubling as a pen and pencil holder.


Whether you’re a card shark, Bobby Fischer’s protege, or a gamer, cultivate your man cave with conversation-worthy games. Consider installing vintage arcade games, a pinball machine, or an antique billiard table. Stock up on a few of your favorite board games and don’t shy away from the classics, like Scrabble or Trivial Pursuit. An antique chess set or backgammon set are also nice additions.

A well-styled man cave features a large television and a high-quality sound system. Whether you’re watching a playoff game or the newest action movie, home theater systems are the perfect addition. Entertainment systems can be quite expensive, however, you can install a new home theater system for less than $1,000. For a simple solution, try mounting a flat screen television on the wall or over a fireplace.


While we may mourn the end of Mad Men and the antics of Don Draper, let’s not forget the show’s classy culture of personal office bars and cocktail hour. Set up your own bar with a classic bar cabinet and stock it with your favorite liquor, bitters and tonics.

Any self-respecting gentleman will invest in a high-quality decanter, cocktail shaker, ice bucket and glassware, as well as a book or two on traditional cocktail making. The notable PDT Cocktail Book, for example, does a great job of teaching the classic recipes without complicating the steps.


If the man cave is a relatively small space, consider transforming one of the walls into built-in library unit. Leave a section open for a wall mounted TV where the shelves can be used as storage for barware, board games, music equipment, and, of course, books. We’re partial to adding in antique books, but create your library with what interests you most.

You can also use the shelves to display sports trophies and medals as well as small works of art. Small, framed prints and paintings work as well. We love this mixed media piece by A. George Miller from 1970, measuring only 8.5 x 10 inches.

Finishing Touches

You may be in a man cave, but you’re not a caveman. Don’t be afraid to add a few plants into the room to help air circulate naturally. Disguise trash in a fun container. If your space is lucky enough to have an ensuite bathroom, stock it with high quality grooming productions. Molton Brown’s Men’s Collection  is a great option with light, masculine scents of ginger, black pepper, and mint.

What’s The Difference Between A Patio & A Deck

While many homeowners might link the two together, make no mistake that patios and decks are very different. They both serve the same purpose, letting you enjoy the outdoors on solid ground, but there are distinct characteristics that are unique to patios and decks. Before you build a deck or hire a pro to install your patio, be sure you review the following distinctions between all decks and patios.

The Basics of Patios & Decks

Patio means a courtyard of a house or building. Unlike a courtyard, a patio doesn’t need surrounding walls. Patios are often attached to a house, but can also be detached. Patios can take on any shape and be built with a variety of materials, which I will expand on below. Patios are almost always built at ground level and do not need railings.

Decks are almost always made of wood or composite. Decks are usually not at ground level and made to take advantage of their great view. It’s a challenging, yet common DIY project many Americans take on in the summer. Because they’re not at ground level, railings are needed. Unlike patios, you will have to seal and clean decks regularly to prevent rot and mold.

The Materials of Patios & Decks

The easiest way to distinguish patios and decks is by the material. Patios are generally made of concrete, pavers, stone, tile, brick, pebbles, rock or pea gravel. As you can see, you will have plenty of options to choose from before installing your patio.

Decks, on the other hand, are almost always made of wood or a composite material. You have plenty of wood types to choose from, but redwood and cedar are the most common. All have their own benefits as we outlined on the bottom of our decking cost estimators.
Price to Install Patios & Decks

Despite popular opinion, patios are cheaper to install. Wood, in general, is less expensive than concrete or tile, but the time commitment and manpower needed to build a deck outweigh the cheaper costs

According to our patio installation cost estimator, the average cost to install a patio and a walkway is $2,637. If your project will be a DIY endeavor, planning costs are minimal. You may want to invest in landscaping software, which can help you organize different material choices and effects. Permits may be required for some patio and walkway projects in your community, making it important to verify these issues before proceeding with any manual work. Additionally, if you live in a community governed by a homeowner’s association, you may be required to submit landscaping plans for review.

Decks, which are a common DIY project compared to patio installation, cost an average of $6,148. A simple deck design, such as a square or rectangle deck, will be cheaper than a customized design. Some custom decks that are built by professionals can cost as much as $5,000 or higher, while pre-selected decks may be as low as $1,500. When thinking about a deck design, you’ll also want to consider your long-term plans to stay in your current home. While a deck addition can increase the value of your home, it can also become a financial burden if repairs are needed down the road.

Cleaning Patios & Decks

Believe it or not, you can get mold on both your deck and patio. Deck mold is quite common and many deck owners realize this before installation, but patio owners need to realize that if you don’t regularly clean and maintain your patio, mold will appear.

Removing deck mold largely depends on the location. Deck mold can appear under, on or next to your deck. Remember, just because you can’t see it, it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. If it is present, don’t worry, as I have outlined three easy steps to removing deck mold.

Bonus Tip: Remember to seal your deck once a year. This is part of the annual cleaning process for all decks.

Patios will not need to be cleaned as often as decks, but if mold occurs, head to your nearest hardware store and purchase some biodegradable patio washing products. Or, if you want to really get into it, just take out your pressure washer and hit the patio with plain water. Both should do the trick.

How To Build Green Patios & Decks

Preserving earth should never take a back seat and building a patio or deck is no different. Our good friends at HomeAdvisor point out three easy steps for building a green patio and deck.

Green Deck

  • Use composite decking, composed from recycled materials that never need to be sealed, treated or painted like wood decking.
  • Avoid irresponsibly harvested and high-priced luxury decking materials such as ipe.
  • Go with a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood so you know that it’s been harvested in a responsible manner.

Green Patio

  • Build a brick, stone or ceramic tile patio. They have a longer lifespan and require less maintenance than wood decks and porches.
  • Take advantage of natural shading provided by trees and shrubbery.
  • Make sure the grade slopes away from the home when your project is finished. Doing so ensures that water will run away from your foundation, preventing mold and foundation problems.

Hot Water Installation

Hot water heaters are one of the many appliances we do not fully appreciate until it stops working. Believe it not, despite its large exterior and solid metal, steel or copper, hot water heaters do malfunction and require replacement or new installation.

While installing a new hot water heater is certainly not a project for the faint, it can be done in one day with the necessary tools and steps. Below, see when it’s time to replace your hot water, how to install a hot water heater and the total installation cost.

When to Replace Hot Water Heater

Unlike other prominent appliances around the home, there are a few telltale signs your hot water heater needs to be replaced. If you start to see a small puddle or slow drip under your hot water heater, it’s on its way out. Within a day or two, you should see a trail of water slowly running away from the heater. Either way, your tank has rusted and that can not be repaired. If water is dripping from your hot water heater, replace it as soon as you can.

Additionally, and perhaps even more obvious, is the absence of hot water. However, with this sign, before jumping to conclusions, check with a plumbing professional. Chances are, this problem can be fixed.

Types of Water Heaters

Water heaters run via natural gas or electric. Many homeowners are currently using the traditional tank-style heaters. This tank with a heating element is used to store a reservoir full of water. They are cheaper to install and replace. Tankless electric water heaters are considered an on-demand application for the home. Tankless water heaters tend to be more energy efficient and last longer than traditional heaters.

For more pros and cons of each, please see Traditional Water Heaters Vs. Tankless Water Heaters.

How to Install A Hot Water Heater

Tools & Materials Needed

  • Garden Hose
  • Multiple Wrenches
  • Screwdriver
  • Pipe Wrench
  • Plumber’s Tape
  • Tube Cutter
  • Solder
  • Soldering Torch
  • Metal Screws
  • Pipe Connectors
  • Pressure Relief Valve
  • Discharge Pipe

Now that preparation has been covered, it’s time to get your hands dirty. Below are all the steps needed to replace or install a new water heater.

Note: The steps below are specifically for a gas water heater, but installing an electric water heater is very similar.

Step 1: Turn Off the Gas & Water

The water supply and gas needs to be off. Otherwise, you could have a very dangerous mess on your hands. Find your gas shutoff valve and turn it off. The valve should most likely be at a right angle when off. Next, turn the water off and drain the pipes.

Step 2: Drain the Hot Water from the Tank

Before removing the hot water tank, we have to empty the tank. You can drain your hot water tank using a garden hose attached to the drain valve. However, as you might expect, the water will be very hot. We recommend using safety gloves or waiting one hour before starting the process.

Then, using two wrenches, disconnect the gas line from the hot water heater. You should disconnect the two at the union where the two lines meet.

Step 3:  Cut Off the Water Lines

Time to fully detach the old water heater. First, unscrew the large vent pipe. All you should need is a screwdriver. Next, using a tube cutter, cut the hot and cold water lines. For some operations, you may just have to unscrew the unions with the same wrenches from before.

Remove the old water heater completely out of the way.

Step 4: Attach the New Relief Valve

Take your new temperature and pressure relief value and wrap the end with plumber’s tape. Place the valve in the new hot water heater and screw it in with a pipe wrench. Attach a new copper pipe to the relief valve.

Step 5: Attach Connectors

Next, we have to attach new copper adapters, or short copper tubes, to the new hot water heater. Before attachment, some add plastic connectors to protect against galvanized pipes. These plastic connectors may be required by code, but it is not 100% necessary.

Now, take the two new adapters and screw them into the hot and cold water inlet ports.

Step 6: Attach All Pipes

With the copper connectors in place, we can attach all pipes to your new water heater. Place the new water heater directly under the previously cut pipes. You may have to recut or extend the old pipes. Solder, or attach the pipes to the new water heater using heat from your soldering torch (any heat source can work).

Do not solder any fittings directly on top of the water heater. If you do, you could melt imperative plastic parts and damage your new water heater. That is why we installed those connectors first. Furthermore, you can solder your pipes before attachment as well.

Step 7: Reconnect the Vent

Now, reconnect the vent using appropriately sized metal screws. If you are unsure, take a picture of your vent and head to your nearest Home Depot. The vent should not be placed directly on the hot water heater. It should attach right above the draft hood.

Step 8: Reconnect the Gas Lines

Coat the end of the gas line with plumber’s tape and attach it to another plastic nipple. Using two pipe wrenches, just like we did before, reconnect the gas line to the new water heater. You should finish with the union, the actual connection point.

Step 9: Fill the Tank

Before we are complete, we have to fill the tank and make sure all is working. Close the drain valve (the same point you used to drain the old tank). Turn your water back on and open the cold water valve. Turn a hot water faucet on and let it run as you are refilling the tank. Once the tank is full, turn off the faucet and check the discharge pipe on the pressure relief valve to be sure it isn’t leaking.

Note: Make sure your tank is full before turning water back on. Both electric and gas water heaters running on non-filled tanks can cause damage and repairs will be needed.

Step 10: Check the Vents

According to Family Handyman, most water heaters rely on a natural draft to draw combustion fumes up the flue. These fumes must stay within the draft. After changing your water heater, you should check this draft.

First, open or turn on a hot water faucet until you hear the gas burner in the water heater ignite. Then, light a match and place it near the draft hood. The smoke should head up the hood. If not, you should content a plumber.

Step 11: Light the Pilot Light

Time to light it up, but before doing so, double check with the manufacturer’s directions. Set the temperature to 120°F. Test the water as well as possible leaks again.

Removing the Hot Water Heater

Most water heaters are quite large. Many homeowners will just ask a friend to help, but others with electric saw experience can cut the water heater in half using safety goggles and protective gear. A smaller water heater is always easier to remove.

Hot Water Installation Cost

Despite their utmost importance, hot water heaters are not as expensive as most assume. As noted before, traditional hot water heaters have a lower initial cost than a tankless water heater. Whether you choose a gas or electric hot water heater, expect the average price to hover around $800 with installation. However, installing yourself can save almost half that cost.

7 Tips To Make Your House Smell Better

When you own a house, it’s easy to get comfortable in your space and fail to notice when it’s time to make changes. You get busy working, the kids and pets are running around, and before you know it, there are smells coming from places you didn’t know existed.

Odors in the home don’t have to be a common occurrence. There are ways to prevent and maintain a home that not only looks good, but smells good too. See seven easy DIY solutions for freshening up your home so you’ve got pleasant odors roaming your space.

1. Eliminate Garbage Disposal Odors

Your garbage disposal could be wreaking more havoc in your home than you might realize. Food and grime build up over time and start to seep through to your kitchen and beyond. Start by running some lemon, lime or orange peels through your disposal to eliminate any odors. It’s said that the acid in the fruit kills some of the odor causing bacteria.

Also, if you’re an advocate of baking soda, this cleaning tip is for you. Dump your baking soda into the garbage disposal, add a cup of white vinegar and let your disposal run. Voila! The hardest part of eliminating odors is remembering to actually run these items through your garbage disposal and not letting gunk build up in the first place.

2. Fresh Scents

Budget-friendly scents such as lavender or chamomile go a long way in the home. They’ve even been known to help people sleep better when put in and around bed pillows. Lavender is a fresh, floral, clean and calm aroma that’s the perfect for making your home smell great. Mix together a DIY room freshener using lavender or diffuse it in and around the home to banish stale odors.

Chamomile is another scent that is recommended for removing unpleasant smells in the house. The term refers to a range of different daisy-like plants and has long been known for its healing properties. The odor is sweet, apple-like and herbaceous. An easy DIY chamomile room spray can be made by diluting 12 drops of the essential oil per ounce of distilled water.

3. Deodorize Carpets

Carpets are certainly to blame for a lot of the smelly odors lurking in your house. That’s why it’s recommended that you always have a carpet freshener on deck.

Instead of purchasing products with chemicals in them, you can create your own deodorizing carpet powder using a few natural ingredients. I fell in love with Jillee’s natural DIY recipe on her blog and highly recommend you check it out! This freshener is nice for anyone with carpets and a necessity for anyone who owns pets.

4. Vanilla Extract

Sprinkling vanilla extract on light bulbs is one trick to eliminating odors. This is one tip I’ve never heard of, so I wanted to learn more! Apparently, it’s an old real estate agent’s trick. Put a drop or two of vanilla extract on a lightbulb, turn on the light and smell the magic. Your house will soon smell like you’ve been baking all day. You can also opt to burn vanilla extract or any other essential oil to quickly enhance the smell of your house.

5. Air Fresheners

Grab a few mason jars and your favorite essential oils or liquid potpourri and follow this DIY tutorial for making your own gel air fresheners. The fresheners will not only make your home smell good, but they’re pretty too.

Your other option is to create a mix of your favorite smelling sprays to distribute throughout the house. I found a great website that outlines several different options for you to try depending on your taste.

6. Potted Plants

This is by far my favorite DIY option for making your home smell fresh and clean. Natural air purifiers include palm trees, orchids and peace lilies. Plants not only bring energy and life to your home but they look beautiful too.

Besides the living room, think about bringing plants into your kitchen and bathrooms to brighten up the space and create a peaceful and calm environment. If you don’t want the hassle of taking care of real plants, then you can purchase fancy fake ones and switch them out as often as you’d like.

7. Stovetop Potpourri

Here’s a suggestion that anyone who owns an oven and a pan can tackle. It’s a quick fix too. Interior designer Rhobin DelaCruz suggests you, “Simmer water in a small saucepan and add citrus (lemon) slices and herbs, like lavender or mint.” In no time, beautiful aromas will be floating throughout your home. No need to buy prepackaged deodorizers when there’s a simple and natural DIY solution that’ll do the trick.

How To Prevent Water Damage To Your Foundation

Your home’s foundation can fail for any number of reasons, ranging from sudden tectonic shifts to gradual soil erosion. Though one of the most common causes of foundation failure is water damage, both from inside and outside your home.

Although water damage is one of the most popular sources of foundation problems, it is also one of the most preventable. When caught early enough, fixing this issue is quite affordable. In fact, many of the tips below are suggestions you can do entirely by yourself.

Preventing Water Damage Inside Your Home

Leaks are the most obvious telltale sign of water damage. If you notice any hissing pipes, clogged toilets or dripping faucets, you might have to bring in a professional to address these issues (unless you’re an experienced DIY plumber).

Less-obvious warning signs include things like:

  • Rot & mold
  • Crumbling concrete
  • Stains & discoloration
  • Backed up sump pumps & septic tanks

However, some damage remains invisible until it is too late such as busted pipes under the floor or loose valves behind the wall. However, you can assess the damage indirectly by turning off the water main for a few hours and seeing if the meter changes. If it does, you’ve got a leak somewhere and it’s time to call a plumber. Rest assured, however, that doing so is far cheaper than letting the problem fester.

  • Left unaddressed, those hidden leaks could eventually compromise your home’s foundation, requiring even more expensive intervention down the road.
  • Until the problem is fixed, expect to pay much higher utility bills. You’re essentially spending money on unused water.

Conduct all of the above inspections periodically throughout the year. Every three to six months is a safe bet. You should also run through this checklist after unusually heavy rainfall.

Preventing Water Damage Outside Your Home

Rain, sewer pipes and runoff can negatively affect your home’s foundation. So it is critical to conduct frequent inspections of your property’s exterior.

This includes:

  • Checking and fixing broken, loose or missing roof tiles
  • Cleaning your gutters, especially at the beginning of winter
  • Ensuring all downspouts eject water at least two yards away from your home

Intelligent landscaping can also extend the life of your foundation. For example, you can slope the surrounding soil so that all rain runoff flows away from your home.

Another common strategy involves planting trees and shrubs next to your property to soak up excessive moisture. However, don’t install these plants too close to your home, since nearby roots can penetrate your foundation’s exterior over time.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, vegetation should be planted “no closer to the foundation of light building structures than the anticipated height of the particular plant.” In other words, a tree that might one day be 10’ tall should be planted at least 10’ away from your home.

10 Home DIY Projects That Are Easier Than You Think

No doubt it’s easier to go to the store and buy something than to make it with your own hands. There are a number of reasons to get into the DIY spirit, though. First and foremost, it’s possible to save a bundle by doing it yourself. But tackling a project instead of picking up an item off the shelf is also a way save money long term, because you’ll always know how to fix it and make another if need be.

Latex mattress. A high-quality mattress made of natural rubber can cost thousands of dollars. If you’re willing to do some research and put in the time, it’s possible to build your own version of a latex mattress for a third of the price. Renegade Health offers a tutorial using a latex pad, mattress cover and mattress pad. Before taking on this project, take some time to familiarize yourself with quality latex mattresses. Visit stores and test out the real thing to get a sense of what feels comfortable.

Sprinkler system. You don’t have to install an expensive in-ground sprinkler system to get a green lawn that’s the envy of the neighborhood. According the DIY website Instructables, anyone can rig up a sprinkler system with custom-length garden hoses and sprinkler heads on spikes that can be moved around in the yard as needed — and taken along should you move.

Speakers. A quality home audio system can bring movies and music to a whole new level of listening enjoyment. It’s no secret a good system purchased in store can cost hundreds of dollars. Popular Mechanics recommends that woodworkers (and those who have a drill handy) build their own speakers with wood planks for a quarter of the price of a store-bought version.

Coffee roaster. Few things smell better than the scent of fresh roasted coffee. True coffee connoisseurs know they don’t need to spend hundreds on a gourmet coffee machine or a pretty penny every month on already roasted beans. Wired suggests using a cheap popcorn popper as the base for a DIY roaster. (Beware: The process requires skill with a hammer and nails, wood, and a stovetop.)
Headboard. A bed headboard is one of those items that can be so easy to make, it’s almost embarrassing to buy one. With DIY options ranging from an old door to a wooden fence, the website DIY & Crafts offers 40 inspirational ideas for making your bed extra dreamy for very few dollars.

Compost bin. Composting is an ideal way to handle the plethora of fall leaves everywhere, as well as reduce your carbon footprint. Instead of buying a bin, be a true recycler by using household items to create a composter. The website TreeHugger suggests using an old garbage can or plastic bin as a composter. Just drill some holes — and voila.

Pillows and cushions. A gorgeous accent cushion from a store like Restoration Hardware easily tops $60. Instead, spend a fraction of that amount and highlight your home with self-made cushions. The website Apartment Therapy suggests a technique for padding a window seat that employs scissors, staples and plywood sheets, which even the least sewing-minded folk can handle with relative ease.

Tasty candy. Admittedly, a bag of candy doesn’t usually cost a fortune. But making your own version of your favorite sweets is also cheap and possibly healthier (because you know what’s in them). A recipe for homemade gummy bears from the blog Simply Taralynn uses gelatin, fruit, a bit of sweetener and some juice.

Baby wipes. For anyone with a child, baby wipes are a necessity right up there with toilet paper and soap. Baby wipes range in price, but buying box after box week after week adds up. To save money, make your own (and forget about ever running out) with easy instructions from the blog White House Black Shutters. Paper towels, water, coconut oil, a bit of cleanser and plastic containers are all that’s needed.

Makeup. Get glowing without the exorbitant price tags and chemical ingredients that are part and parcel of so many cosmetics. A list of 22 do-it-yourself makeup recipes from the blog You’re So Pretty provides an easy, fun alternative. It’s even more cost-effective because you can customize the shades. No more buying a color and bringing it home only to see that it looks terrible without department store lighting.

How to Save When You Buy Your Next Water Heater

When Grayson Bell moved into a new home in Raleigh, North Carolina, last year, he planned to replace his 27-year-old water heater.

The founder of personal finance blog DebtRoundup.com, Bell thought he could save money by installing a tankless water heater. But after consulting more than a dozen plumbers, he found that with an initial cost of $4,500, it would take more than 18 years for the savings from lower energy costs to equal his initial expenses. That was enough to convince him to buy a traditional 50-gallon electric tank.

“I was dead set on getting a tankless because I heard about how much money you can save,” Bell says, but he found that any energy savings would be eaten up by installation costs. He ended up paying $1,200 for a traditional water heater, which included moving the unit, a new stand and a new extended drain. Bell determined a tankless electric installation would save only about $15 a month. “It doesn’t really save you that much,” he says.

Most people don’t do quite that much research, especially if it’s an emergency, but it’s good to know your options ahead of time and have an idea of how much each will cost in the short term and long term. Gas water heaters last about 10 years and electric about 15 years, on average, so if your water heater is nearing that age, you might want to investigate options now.

There are two major types of water heaters: traditional storage tanks that hold 20 to 80 gallons of water and tankless heaters, which heat water as it passes through the unit. Each type comes with variations that can be used with gas, propane or electricity. You can also buy solar water heaters, with an electric or gas backup.

Most people buy the water heater from the plumber who installs it, though you can buy your own from a hardware store. Discuss options with your plumber and tell him or her about your needs: more hot water, energy savings or other considerations, plus ask for recommendations.

“If your current water heater is meeting your water needs, your best bet is to replace it with the same thing.

The most economical option is typically to replace an existing water heater with the same kind and same fuel source, and for most homeowners that will be a storage water heater. Changing fuel source or type can require expensive retrofitting.

“If your current water heater is meeting your water needs, your best bet is to replace it with the same thing,” says Rick Muscoplat, a contributing editor for FamilyHandyman.com.

Even if you replace like with like, you may still find yourself facing added costs for permits, upgrading to meet current codes or accommodating heaters that meet new Environmental Protection Agency standards for energy efficiency that went into effect in April.

“It can almost double the price of what you think it’s going to call for,” says Mary Kennedy Thompson, a licensed plumber and COO of The Dwyer Group, the parent company of 11 home service franchise brands.

The changes for smaller storage water heaters are minimal, while tankless water heaters already met the new EPA standards. Storage water heaters of 55 gallons or more will have to use new technologies that make them significantly more energy efficient but also larger. Heat-pump technology, which draws heat from the surrounding air to increase efficiency, has been added to electric water heaters, and new gas water heaters use condensing technology to keep warm air from escaping. While these options are more expensive, they save additional energy.

When Thompson recently replaced her water heater in Waco, Texas, she opted to stay with a traditional electric storage heater. “I did not put a tankless in because of the cost,” she says. “Clearly a tankless water heater is going to be the more expensive route.”

Thompson and Muscoplat say that replacing a storage water heater with a tankless heater only makes sense if your existing water heater isn’t meeting your family’s needs and, even then, a larger storage heater may be the better option. “Where I think tankless water heaters make sense for retrofitting is if you have a shortage of space and run out of hot water a lot,” Thompson says.
Before committing to any water heater, you should know what will be required to install it. A natural gas tankless heater may require a larger gas line, new flue, new water lines and the addition of an electrical line. Installing an electric tankless heater is likely to require additional electrical work because the tankless heaters draw so much current. There are tankless heaters that use propane, but Muscoplat says they are generally not practical for residential use because a large propane tank would be required.

All those extras can bring the cost of adding a tankless water heater to an existing home to $8,000 or more. Plus, he says, tankless heaters should be flushed out twice a year with a descaling agent, at a cost of about $175 each time, and the sensors and electronics make them more expensive to repair.

“Are they saving money? Absolutely not,” Muscoplat says. “A tankless water heat in a retrofit costs a fortune to install. Never buy a tankless water heater thinking that you’re going to save money.”

On the other hand, tankless water heaters are more energy efficient than their storage tank counterparts and they provide almost endless hot water, so they can be a good choice for new construction or if you’re doing a major renovation project.

Here are three things to look for when choosing a water heater.

Size. Consider not only the number of gallons the tank holds, but also the “first hour rating,” which is the number of gallons the heater can supply an hour. You can find that number on the EnergyGuide label. Remember that a 50-gallon tank will only provide about 35 gallons of water because as you use the hot water it is replaced by cold. If the average eight-minute shower uses 17.2 gallons, that means you can get two showers from a 50-gallon tank with a first hour rating of 35.

Retrofitting. Most municipalities require a permit to install a water heater, plus some newer water heaters take up slightly more space. When choosing a water heater, consider how much you’ll need to spend to make it fit or to comply with current building codes. Some newer gas heaters also require the installation of an electric line.

New technologies. The newer types of tank water heaters — heat pump for electric and condensing for gas — cost more but use less energy. Do the math to calculate whether they’re the right choice for you. Interview multiple plumbers and get at least three bids for any type of water heater you’re considering.

4 Smart Places to Put Your Short-Term Savings

Short-term savings often take the form of an emergency fund — the three to six months’ worth of living expenses everyone should have in case of a layoff, family crisis, medical emergency or other misfortune. Savings can also be set aside for short-term goals or expenses that may come up in the next one to three years, such as a vacation, renovations or a car.

It’s important to stash this money somewhere safe and accessible, rather than tie it up in risky investments. “You’re going to need it, and you don’t want it flushed away,” says Chad Smith, a certified financial planner in North Carolina. “Avoid doing anything aggressive with it.”

So, where should short-term savings go?

Savings Account. Savings accounts are one of the best ways to make sure your money is secure and available when needed. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund guarantee that if a bank or credit union goes under, each customer’s lost money gets reimbursed up to $250,000. The downside is that the average interest on a savings account is 0.41 percent, according to Bankrate (RATE), although online banks may offer higher rates. Ally Bank savings accounts earn 1 percent.

High-Interest Checking Account. Often the highest interest rates are offered by regional banks or credit unions, and many of these regional institutions let anyone join, no matter where they live. Lake Michigan Credit Union, for example, opens up membership to people living in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan and those who have a family member with an account — but also anyone who makes a $5 donation to the West Michigan chapter of the ALS Association.

The LMCU Max Checking account offers members 3 percent APR for the first $15,000; additional funds accrue no interest. The account also refunds up to $15 in ATM fees each month and is part of a national network of ATMs with free withdrawals.

Most high-yield checking accounts have monthly requirements. In LMCU’s case, account holders must make 10 debit card purchases, log in to the account four times, sign up for emailed statements, and set up direct deposit. At many banks and credit unions, transfers from other bank accounts, including personal accounts, count as direct deposits. Some people buy small-denomination gift cards online or buy gas to meet the 10-purchase requirement.

It’s a bit of a hassle, but using a high-yield account for everyday checking and short-term savings can be rewarding. The difference between 0.41 percent interest and 3 percent interest on $15,000 over three years is $1,206.

Credit Card Debt. Paying off debt may not seem like a way to save money for an emergency, but consider that the average interest rate for credit card debt is 15.72 percent, according to Bankrate. That means paying off debt yields a guaranteed return of 15.72 percent — much more than a safe short-term investment would make.The idea here is to use money that would otherwise go into an emergency fund to pay down credit card debt, and fall back on the credit card in case of an emergency. However, keep in mind that some payments cannot be made with a credit card. It is wise to save at least several months’ worth of funds for cash-only expenses such as rent rather than put all your savings toward eliminating high-interest debt.

CD Laddering. This tactic is a bit more complicated but might result in a better yield, and a bank or financial planner can lend a hand. CD laddering is intended for short-term savings that might be needed in one to two years, as opposed to an emergency fund, which should be kept in a liquid account.

To build a CD ladder, invest equal amounts of money in certificates of deposit with different maturity dates. (The longer the term, the higher the interest rate.) For instance, buy CDs that mature in six months, one year, 18 months, two years, and so on. As the CDs mature, renew them for the longest term on your ladder. This strategy ensures that cash will be available regularly to use if necessary. In the meantime, the money earns more interest than it would in a most savings accounts.

Help! I Was Sold a Bad Home. Now What?

Sometimes all the safeguards the real estate industry has put in place to help prevent buyer’s remorse after purchasing a house still don’t work.

The process takes time for a reason, and you aren’t getting a home inspection for the fun of it. It can happen. You can buy a plot of disappointment.

It’s never easy to bounce back from purchasing a house you quickly wish you hadn’t bought. You’ve moved in. You may have nowhere else to go. You’ve not only spent a lot of money, but a lot of time and energy. And the law isn’t necessarily on your side. Still, if you’re determined to get your money back, or at least some satisfaction, you’ll want to remember the following.

Know your rights. Here’s the good news. You are (probably) within your rights to sue someone who knowingly sells you a house with serious problems.

“Most U.S. states have a home seller disclosure law that requires a seller to disclose defects in the home that they are aware of. Such defects include foundation and structural issues, roofing, HVAC, fireplace, basement, plumbing, electrical, siding, floors, walls, windows and even appliances,” says Lance Luke, owner of Construction Management Inspection, in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Maybe most importantly, he adds: “The seller disclosure case law actually mandates that the seller disclose not only what they know, but what they should have known.”

It’s another story in the Lone Star State, says Matthew Young, owner of Autus Properties, a custom home builder in Plano, Texas.

“Generally, Texas is buyer beware when buying a home,” Young says. “The real estate promulgated form gives buyers time periods to make inspections of anything and everything they feel is relevant.”

Moreover, Young says, “for Texas, generally once an issue is fixed, a homeowner no longer has to disclose it.”

If you buy a house from someone who had a roof leak, and it was fixed, you’re under no obligation to know that because the seller doesn’t have to disclose it, Young says.

The burden of proof is on you. And here is the bad news (or worse news, since the good news wasn’t great): It’s hard to prove anyone knowingly sold you a dump.

That’s why real estate experts urge homeowners to hire a qualified and competent home inspector or perhaps purchase a home warranty that covers unknown defects. If you’re going to get a court to side with you, generally, you have to prove that the seller actually knew about the defects when they sold you the house, says Peter Boscas, owner of Red Cedar Real Estate in Columbia, Maryland.

And that isn’t easy.

Every once in a while, you may get lucky. “I had a client come across proof of deception once completely by accident,” Boscas says. “They had called a local plumber randomly out of the phone book to come repair a sewage issue in the basement that had come up a few weeks after settlement. When the plumber arrived, he made a comment to the new homeowners that he had been to the house already four or five times in the last couple of months for the same exact issue.”

If the new homeowners hadn’t happened to call the same plumber, who noted he’d given the old homeowners estimates of what it would have cost to repair the water issues, though they took no action, there would have been no proof that they had been knowingly sold a problematic home.

As it turns out, Boscas says the new homeowners confronted the sellers about the plumbing, “and to avoid litigation, the sellers agreed to cover half the cost of the repair.”

Which should be encouraging. If you really have a case, just threatening to sue may work.

Don’t rush to your lawyer. Yes, you’re angry. Yes, something needs to be done. Yes, you may have the right to sue. But Ron Rovtar, a real estate broker with Cherry Creek Properties in Boulder, Colorado, says that he would recommend you first go to your agent.

For one, he says, “court cases are expensive.” Moreover, he adds: “It has been my experience that often a more direct approach is the best first option for solving a post-closing problem.”

He advises you at least talk things out and see if you can come up with a decent resolution with the seller before you call your attorney. If you can’t do that, or you’re convinced that you have to go to court, he strongly suggests, “Do not drop this bomb until you have indeed talked to an attorney.”

There are two reasons for that, Rovtar says, explaining: “You may find that you really do not have a case, or that the payoff will probably be too small. The law and the way courts interpret it can be confusing to us non-lawyers.”

Besides, Rovtar points out that you’ll likely be asked for the name and phone number of your attorney; all the more reason to have actually spoken to one. “In this business, legal threats are made all the time. No one will take you seriously if you have not at the least talked to a lawyer,” he says.

Prevention is, well, you know. Nobody wants to hear this if they’re in a jam. But if you were worried about this sort of thing, and you, say, brought in a real estate attorney, he or she probably gave you an escape clause, like adding a rider to a standard purchase and sale agreement, says Robert Pellegrini, president of PK Boston, a real estate law firm.

“Without affirmations in writing, the buyers will have a difficult time defeating the well-established principal of caveat emptor, buyer beware,” Pellegrini says.

But all is not lost if you don’t have the rider, Pellegrini says.

“You should look for any evidence that the sellers may have known about the condition,” he says, adding that if you can prove the seller took steps to hide the defects, you may be able to seek damages.

Of course, attorneys don’t come cheap, and if you have the money to go to court to try and force the seller to make repairs or amends in some other way, you probably have the income to fix your house. When you don’t have the money for either the attorney or repairs, that’s when you may have to learn to love your house, even the parts of it you hate.

How to Sell an Ugly House

Sometimes you can’t sell the house you want to sell. You have to sell the house you have.

Perhaps you’re broke or rushed, and you don’t have the time or money to make home improvements, like finishing the basement or painting the house. Maybe even hiring a cleaning crew to scrub down your home seems like a financial reach. You simply need to sell your not-so-awesome house.

What do you do?

Money talks. If your house is something of an eyesore, you can still sell it. But you’ll almost certainly have to sell it for less than you could have otherwise.

“Price solves all problems,” says Bruce Ailion, a real estate agent and attorney in Atlanta. In addition to selling homes, Ailion manages a hedge fund that buys and rehabs properties to rent or flip. So he has purchased a few dumps in his day.

“I’ve sold all sorts of difficult homes, cracked foundations, a side ripped off by strong winds, mold,” Alison says. He adds that he was able to sell another home, which had a resident who was something of a dog hoarder. “The pet stains had pet stains, and the smell opening the door was overpowering,” he says.How much house can I affordStart Now »View all Courses

So as bad as your home may seem, it’s probably not unsellable. But you will have to lower the price.

By how much? Bill Golden, a real estate agent in Atlanta for almost 30 years, has a simple formula. If you have repairs, and you can calculate what it would cost to repair your roof or paint the walls, “simply subtract the cost of the repairs from what the value of the home would be if the repairs were not needed,” he says.

Even there, it isn’t quite that simple. Golden adds that buyers will still want enough of a discount to cover what he calls “the hassle factor.” Those buyers, after all, are going to have to spend time finding the right painter or flooring company or roofer or whatever contractor they need, and the buyer doesn’t know if there will be additional, unexpected costs related to the repairs.

“The fine line to walk in pricing is to list it low enough that those repairs are taken into account, but with enough wiggle room to offer a further discount so the buyer will feel that it’s worth taking on the project,” Golden says.

Don’t assume the worst. You may feel like you would never buy your home in its current state, and therefore, nobody else would either. But your real estate agent may not see this as a big deal. For instance, Kella McCaskill, a real estate agent with Keller Williams Tampa Central, in Tampa, Florida, lists some minor issues that may feel major to you:

  1. Your house is outdated.
  2. Your flooring isn’t very good.
  3. You have no air-conditioning.
  4. The exterior of the house looks shabby.
  5. There’s junk everywhere.
  6. You have minor mold and mildew issues.

Of course, you may wonder what a major issue would be, and McCaskell cites a few items like structural damage, water damage and drywall problems. So if the house isn’t falling apart, you’re probably going to get a decent price relative to the area — just not top dollar.

Focus on the best. So your house looks shabby in some areas. Work on making the best parts of your home even better.

McCaskell says she once sold a home with interior fire damage.

“The only thing that remained intact was the exterior … the entire inside was destroyed,” she says.

So what did she do?

“We made sure the grass was cut. The outside was at its best. I wanted anyone interested in buying this home to see the possibilities. I would encourage a seller to do the same. Make the home great in the areas you can make an impact,” she says.

Be transparent. If you’re giving your buyer a tour, don’t deny the obvious.

“Never attempt to pretend the horrible smell is not there. Yes, everyone can smell it. They can also see the trash piled to the sky in the backyard,” says Chantay Bridges, a real estate agent in Los Angeles.

Trying to downplay it makes you look shifty, and now you have two problems. Who wants to buy a house that smells or is trashy from a dishonest homebuyer?

But you can turn a negative into a positive, Bridges says. “Be creative,” she suggests. “Say something like, ‘It’s great that there’s a little bit of a mess. It gives you negotiation room, and you can get a great deal because of it.'”

Clean. OK, maybe you can’t hire a professional cleaner, but you can push up your sleeves and try to clean it yourself.

Here’s a checklist of things to buy and tackle, according to Bridges:

Buy some bleach. “Get rid of smells and odors,” she advises; you can add bleach to cups and set them in each room to neutralize smells.

Bridges also recommends going all out with your cleaning. “Shampoo the carpets,” she says. “Wash the walls. Ajax. Windex. Do everything you can to present the home in the best condition possible.”

Buy some garbage bags. “Get rid of clutter, trash, excess of any kind,” Bridges says. “Buyers want to imagine themselves living in the home, which is tough to do with mountains of garbage everywhere.”

Go outside. Everything you can do to make the yard look better, do. “Trim trees and landscaping yourself,” Bridges says. “Spruce up the yard, mow the grass, pick up dead leaves, sweep, wash down [the house]. Straighten out the exterior. Clean up the garage.”

Check the cabinets and organize the drawers. “Wipe down cabinets, spruce up closets, fold up towels,” Bridges says. And why bother? “Buyers open cabinets and look through drawers,” she says.

Remove a lot of furniture. It may improve how everything looks, according to Brad Chandler, CEO of Express Homebuyers, a real estate investment company in Springfield, Virginia.

“I’d advise the homeowner to get rid of all the clutter, knickknacks and excess,” he says. “Leave only the essential pieces of furniture in each room. Then clean and scrub everything from top to bottom. Even if the place isn’t in great condition, if it’s at least spotlessly clean, it will be more attractive to a buyer.”

Mike Minihan agrees. Minihan, managing broker of Terrace 24 Realty in Atlanta, says, “Dumpy houses are usually filled with dumpy furniture and decorations, so it’s best to move everything out. This runs counter to advice an agent would give to most sellers, because a staged house usually shows much better than an empty house.”

Minihan says staged homes usually work better because buyers don’t have much imagination, and an empty room forces buyers to work hard to imagine their furniture and belongings in the room.

“But with the dumpy house, you are in search of a buyer with imagination, and that couch from 1981 with cigarette burns all over it is probably going impede this visionary buyer’s creative process more than it will help it,” he says.

And try to be confident. Almost any house, as long as it’s safe to live in, is likely to be sold.

“The worst home I was able to sell had dogs living in the bedrooms, with mushrooms coming through the floors and odors that you could smell a mile away,” Bridges says. She was still able to sell it, to investors who planned to renovate it — and they paid for the house in cash.