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5 DIY steps to help you stay warm and save money this winter

by Desi Sowers

(BPT) - With the dead of winter fast approaching, it’s never too soon (or late) to prepare your home for the cold months ahead. With the goal of keeping cold air out and warm air in, make sure you’re doing all you can to keep your family warm and your heating bills low.

Proper insulating and air sealing can help lower your energy bills by up to 30 percent, according to the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET). Additionally, the average U.S. home has a half mile of gaps and cracks spread throughout, according to If you’re seeing spiders, dust, cobwebs and feeling drafts or uneven room temperatures, your home likely has gaps and poor insulation. Here are five DIY air sealing steps to help keep your home comfortable during the frigid weather using insulating foam sealant:

1. Scope out the problem areas

Start by checking around doors and windows that lead outside or to the garage. Gaps around water and waste pipes often lead to exterior walls which can let in a lot of air. Don’t forget to look around in your basement and attic where you may find gaping joists, holes in wood or cracked blocks.

2. Take safety precautions

Before starting any DIY project, be sure to take the necessary safety precautions. Begin by reading and understanding all of the instructions on the foam sealant can for proper use and handling. Sealant is sticky and will adhere to your skin, so cover all skin.  At a minimum, you’ll need both gloves and long sleeves to cover your hands and arms, along with a pair of safety glasses. Protect the floor and surrounding area by laying down a ground cover and make certain the room has proper ventilation with no sparks or flames nearby.

3. Start with windows and doors

To seal the openings around windows and doors and their rough openings, find an entry point for the nozzle to spray the foam sealant, such as Great Stuff(tm) Window & Door Insulating Foam Sealant. Fill the cracks only about half way, because the foam will expand the rest of the way. Not only does this block out cold air, but it’ll help keep those unwanted bugs and spiders out of your home.

4. Move on to cracks in the foundation

Cracks in your home’s foundation tend to develop over time. It’s important to take action when you find them, to help prevent major damage down the road. Apply a water-resistant, air-tight sealant to any cracks you find in your basement or attic. Shake the sealant can and turn it upside down to begin filling. If you spray too much, wait for the sealant to cure, and after about eight hours when it is fully cured, level it with a serrated knife.

5. Seal off pipe penetrations

Pipes that penetrate floors and walls in your kitchen, bathroom and laundry room are prime areas for air flow and pests to sneak through. As a result, the space that surrounds the pipes should not be left wide open. Using a can of foam sealant, point the straw into the opening around the pipe and start sealing. Do not force foam into spaces or voids behind walls.

6. Safely store and dispose of cans

Most one-component insulating foam sealant cans are for one-time use so before you start, make sure you identify all the areas around your home that you can seal. Also be sure to follow all of the instructions on the product label for both storage and disposal. Disposal regulations for these types of products may differ from one location to the next. Because a sealant is pressurized it must be stored upright and at room temperature.

Follow these steps to help keep your home warm and cozy this winter. For more information and tips on winterizing your home visit:

12 Simple Home Repairs to Lift You Out of Winter’s Funk

by Desi Sowers

home-repair-jobs-winter-talc-squeaky-floor_9d6d88a9d3591085405678a30f441441_3x2_jpg_600x400_q85Accomplishments — even little ones — go a long way toward a sunny outlook. Fortunately, there are plenty of easy, quick home repair chores you can do when you’re mired in the thick of winter. For max efficiency, make a to-do list ahead of time and shop for all the tools and supplies in one trip. On your work days, put the basics in a caddy and carry it from room to room, checking off completed tasks as you speed through them.

What to Look (and Listen) For
In each room, look around and take stock of what needs fixing or improving. Focus on small, quick-hit changes, not major redos. Here are some likely suspects:

1.  Sagging towel rack or wobbly toilet tissue holder. Unscrew the fixture and look for the culprit. It’s probably a wimpy, push-in type plastic drywall anchor. Pull that out (or just poke it through the wall) and replace it with something more substantial. Toggle bolts are strongest, and threaded types such as E-Z Ancor are easy to install.

2.  Squeaky door hinges. Eliminate squeaks by squirting a puff of powdered graphite ($2.50 for a 3-gram tube) alongside the pin where the hinge turns. If the door sticks, plane off a bit of the wood, then touch up the paint so the surgery isn’t noticeable.

3.  Creaky floor boards. They’ll shush if you fasten them down better. Anti-squeak repair kits, such as Squeeeeek No More ($23), feature specially designed screws that are easy to conceal. A low-cost alternative: Dust a little talcum powder into the seam where floorboards meet — the talcum acts as a lubricant to quiet boards that rub against each other.

4.  Rusty shutoff valves. Check under sinks and behind toilets for the shutoff valves on your water supply lines. These little-used valves may slowly rust in place over time, and might not work when you need them most. Keep them operating by putting a little machine oil or WD-40 on the handle shafts. Twist the handles back and forth to work the oil into the threads. If they won’t budge, give the oil a couple of hours to penetrate, and try again.

5.  Blistered paint on shower ceilings. This area gets a lot of heat and moisture that stresses paint finishes. Scrape off old paint and recoat, using a high-quality exterior-grade paint. Also, be sure everyone uses the bathroom vent when showering to help get rid of excess moisture.

6.  Loose handles or hinges on furniture, cabinets, and doors. You can probably fix these with a few quick turns of a screwdriver. But if a screw just spins in place, try making the hole fit the screw better by stuffing in a toothpick coated with glue, or switching to a larger screw.

Safety Items
You know those routine safety checks you keep meaning to do but never have the time? Now’s the time.

7.  Carbon monoxide and smoke detectors. If you don’t like waking up to the annoying chirp of smoke detector batteries as they wear down, do what many fire departments recommend and simply replace all of them at the same time once a year.

8.  Ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets. You’re supposed to test them once a month, but who does? Now’s a great time. You’ll find them around potentially wet areas — building codes specify GFCI outlets in bathrooms, kitchens, and for outdoor receptacles. Make sure the device trips and resets correctly. If you find a faulty outlet, replace it or get an electrician to do it for $75 to $100.

Another good project is to replace your GFCIs with the latest generation of protected outlets that test themselves, such as Levitron’s SmartlockPro Self-Test GFCI ($28). You won’t have to manually test ever again!

9.  Exhaust filter for the kitchen stove. By washing it to remove grease, you’ll increase the efficiency of your exhaust vent; plus, if a kitchen stovetop fire breaks out, this will help keep the flames from spreading.

10.  Clothes dryer vent. Pull the dryer out from the wall, disconnect the vent pipe, and vacuum lint out of the pipe and the place where it connects to the machine. Also, wipe lint off your exterior dryer vent so the flap opens and closes easily. (You’ll need to go outside for that, but it’s quick.) Remember that vents clogged with old dryer lint are a leading cause of house fires.

11.  Drain hoses. Inspect your clothes washer, dishwasher, and icemaker. If you see any cracks or drips, replace the hose so you don’t come home to a flood one day.

12.  Electrical cords. Replace any that are brittle, cracked, or have damaged plugs. If you’re using extension cords, see if you can eliminate them — for example, by replacing that too-short lamp cord with one that’s longer. If you don’t feel up to rewiring the lamp yourself, drop it off at a repair shop as you head out to shop for your repair materials. It might not be ready by the end of the day. But, hey, one half-done repair that you can’t check off is no big deal, right?

Jeanne Huber is the author of 10 books about home improvement. She writes a weekly column about home care for the Washington Post.

Visit for more articles like this. Reprinted from with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®

Bright Idea

by Desi Sowers


Bright Idea


 Looking for a cost-effective way to

 increase security in your home and
 save energy at the same time?
 You could put some of the
 lamps in your house on a   
 timer — or you could
 consider wireless lighting.

 According to,
 wireless lighting enables you to
 replace switches in your home with
 receivers that respond to radio frequency
signals from remote controls. It might sound complicated, but it’s fairly simple: Disconnect the manual switches and replace them with dimmers. Freestanding lamps that must be plugged into an outlet can be plugged into wireless receptors connected to the outlet. You can even program one remote to operate multiple lights throughout your house, no matter
the size.

Aside from the ability to turn off a light downstairs when you’re already upstairs or turn on a light from anywhere in your home if you hear a suspicious noise, the main benefit of installing a wireless lighting system is reducing electricity and energy consumption. You can connect the system to a timer to set lights to turn on and off at specific times.

Wireless systems can range in price, from as little as $30 for a starter kit to hundreds of dollars to equip your entire home. Before installation, talk to a certified electrician to ensure the kit you purchase is the best for your home.


What's the Magic Color for Selling Your House?

by Desi Sowers

What's the Magic Color for Selling Your House?

Color plays a big part in selling a house. How you decide to dress your walls can convince a buyer that your home is move-in ready or leave them looking elsewhere. If the goal is to see the sparkle of “love at first sight,” consider picking the right paint palette to suit a range of buyer tastes.


Proper Preparation

When you paint your walls, make sure you prepare the walls properly. Before you start, use a pre-made crack filler or drywall compound to fill in minor cracks and old picture hook holes. Lightly sanding baseboards, window frames and doors is also a great way to ensure that your paint will adhere to the surfaces properly. Make sure you are using the same base paint that currently exists on the surface you are repainting. Latex on latex, and oil base on oil base.

Picking The Magical Colors

Color choices are plentiful, as are the types of paints. When selecting interior colors, consider how you use each room or the feeling that you want to create for the space. White is a great accent, but for walls it is a harsh and cold color. Instead of white, choose warm, inviting and neutral paint colors such as yellows, warm beige and olive tones.

The best rule of thumb for home remodeling is to stick to a color palette that isn’t too bland but also isn’t too bold. For smaller spaces, such as bathrooms, choose colors that make the room look bigger such as warmer whites. For the bigger rooms, select a paint that is a couple shades darker to create a cozy atmosphere. For bedrooms, calming paint colors work best.

Make sure the palette you create flows from room to room. At paint stores, purchase a smaller can of paint and test it on the walls before committing to the color for the entire room.

Wallpaper Can Be A "Turnoff"

Potential homebuyers don’t always like wallpaper or at least the wallpaper you may have chosen 15 years ago. They want simple, clean, warm and inviting rooms and not the potential headache of steam cleaners and wallpaper removal. It is a good idea to consider removing wallpaper or at the very least painting over it where necessary in order to open the space and make the room feel fresh and clean.

Don’t Forget To Look Up

Potential buyers notice water stains and old-fashioned ceilings. If you have a home with a stucco ceiling, it can date your home to a buyer. Before you show your home, consider painting the ceiling with flat white paint. If you have crown molding, make sure you use the same ceiling paint for a consistent professional look.


The Big Chill: Winterizing Checklist

by Desi Sowers

The Big Chill: Winterizing Checklist

While September brings the first day of fall, October can be the harbinger of the winter and all of its frigid pitfalls. It’s best to be prepared for the frost and snow with a few simple tasks that will prevent drafts, frosty windows and every homeowner’s nightmare: Busted pipes.

A good place to start prior to tackling problem areas in your home is a home energy audit. This will pinpoint specific places in your house where heat escapes. The U.S. Department of Energy has a do-it-yourself energy assessment, or you can hire someone to do the audit for you.

Big Chill Checklist


Cold air can seep in through those little gaps between your door and the door frame, quickly reversing any effort you take to heat your home. Weatherstripping covers the sides and top of the door and a sweep fills the space between the threshold and door bottom. Hardware stores and home centers sell numerous products in metal, foam, rubber and plastic for this purpose and many can be installed in an afternoon.


This may be another area where additional weatherstripping or caulk is needed to fill any visible gaps, though that still might not be enough remediation to prevent drafts. While windows add much needed winter light, they can let out a lot of heat — up to 12 times more than a wall if they’re single pane. Blinds can keep a little heat in, but heavier shades or curtains will minimize heat loss.


Fantasizing about a cozy evening in front of the fire? Your romantic night might be cut short if your fireplace hasn’t been serviced. The National Fire Protection Association recommends that chimneys are swept at least once a year.


It’s also recommended that furnaces be serviced once a year. A heating system can break down at the most inopportune time is it’s not serviced. Worse, it can pump carbon monoxide into a home or eventually stop working. While a furnace service can run up to $100, the cost benefits are undeniable, considering the cost of a major fix or replacement.


According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a home with central heating can lose between 10 and 30 percent of its heated air before that air reaches the vents if duct work is not well-connected and insulated, or if it must travel through unheated spaces.


Frozen pipes are a royal nuisance, but with a little effort, many instances can be prevented. The best way to tackle these is to wrap pipes that run the exterior of the home with heating tape. Turn off the water and drain the remaining water at the inside valves. You can also purchase insulated covers for additional prevention.




Home Improvement Trends for the New Year

by /posted by Desi Sowers

Most homeowners are unlikely to be building, remodeling or decorating with abandon in 2010, given the slow recovery from the recession. But if you do plan to update your home or garden, here are some trends to keep in mind.

Home decor. The sleek, sophisticated but comfortable style known as “soft contemporary” will be a key look for the New Year, said Kris Kolar, vice president of interior design at Robb & Stucky Interiors. Instead of the eclectic clutter that has been popular for a while, there will be a move toward using just one or two eye-catching accents. These “punctuation-mark pieces,” featuring hand-worked techniques that give a custom look, may include special materials such as mother-of-pearl, flame mahogany and stainless steel.

Furniture. The environmental movement is getting stronger, said Jackie Hirschhaut, spokeswoman for the American Home Furnishings Alliance. Increasingly, furniture is being built using natural-fiber fabrics, recycled metals and sustainable woods. Red will be the trendiest accent color for furniture, she predicted. And home offices will continue to boom as growing numbers of Americans work from their residences.

Color. Classic neutrals and pops of exotic brights are the key shades at Pittsburgh Paints, which recently announced four color palettes for 2010.

The “Canvas” palette includes deep gray-browns and gray-blues, muted beige and chalky white. “Pink City” offers vibrant pinks, spicy oranges, grays and chocolate-brown. “Grace” includes elegant hues such as pale butter, bronze-gold and sea foam. And “Zest” reinvents the style of Palm Springs circa 1950, mixing high-energy yellows with gray, white and black.

Landscaping. Organic vegetable gardens, like the one installed at the White House are likely to be a huge trend in 2010, said Orlando, Fla., horticulture expert Tom MacCubbin. Community gardens are a growing trend, especially those that involve children. Of all vegetables, he predicts tomatoes will be especially popular. In the landscape, perennial plants that last longer than annuals and need less care are a strong trend, he added. Trendy plants include gold mound duranta, a shrub with acid-green foliage, and perennial bulbine, which sports spikes of yellow blooms.

New-home construction. The era of the extravagant McMansion is over, said Nathan Cross of NWC Construction in Orlando. When building new homes, people are increasingly budget-conscious. “It’s back to basics. Even the pool is a no-frills deal,” he said. About the only area where homeowners may be prepared to splurge a little is the master suite. Energy-efficiency will be important. So will going green: “So long as it’s a green trend that doesn’t cost too much.” Outdoors, some homeowners will be installing fireplaces, fire pits and summer kitchens.

Remodeling. The trend toward making minor improvements to home exteriors is likely to extend into next year—for good reason. It gives homeowners the biggest bang for their bucks when it comes to selling their homes. In terms of costs recouped, eight out of the top 10 home-improvement projects this year were exterior upgrades that cost less than $14,000, according to Realtors Report’s annual Remodeling Cost vs. Value Report. A steel entry-door replacement topped the list, recouping 128.9% of costs, followed by upscale fiber-cement siding replacements (83.6%), wood deck additions (80.6%), and several types of window replacements (more than 70%). The two interior projects that landed on the top-10 list were attic-bedroom additions (83.1% recouped) and minor kitchen remodels (78.3%). The least profitable remodeling projects in terms of resale, and therefore not likely to be popular in 2010, were home-office remodels and sunroom additions.

Written by Jean Patteson

4 Ways to Stage Your Home and Create a Well-Rounded First Impression

by posted by Desi Sowers

home_securityRISMEDIA, October 29, 2009—Feeling good about a home and a neighborhood is part and parcel of making the decision to buy, so staging a home should involve more than just raising the charm factor. Look for ways to also make the house say “safe and secure” to ensure a more well-rounded first impression. 

In the course of my adult life, I’ve lived in 14 different residences, six of which have been single-family homes that I bought. Like most people, each time I had my list of must-haves in terms of living space, floor plan flow, structure, amenities, etc. But as I was also new to the area for half of those decisions, I was also interested in knowing more about the neighborhood and surrounding environment and would always envision myself coming home after dark. Even the most charming tree-lined street takes on a different character when the sun goes down. 

Home as a sanctuary has moved from cultural trend to the essence of what makes a house a home. The term “sanctuary” covers everything from the basic need of shelter, a place of refuge, security, as well as a home that fits the lifestyle of the family living there. Gone are the days when showing a house with a home security system or solid deadbolts might signal the buyer to think the neighborhood was unsafe. Today, a home properly equipped to address general security issues is expected and has become the norm. Making a home more secure doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming. 

Here are some options for sellers to consider: 

1. Hedging your bet-Trimming the bushes at the front entry and near the windows of the home adds curb appeal and opens sight lines around entrances.
2. Security with style- Choose attractive storm doors and entry doors with more secure locking options.
3. Light it up- Motion-activated lighting, timer controls and dusk-to-dawn options paired with path lighting and landscape lighting means the curb appeal of the home doesn’t go down with the sun.
4. High-tech peace of mind-Easy-to-install, whole-home wireless security systems and monitoring means you can control locks, lights and cameras from a computer or cell phone. 

A buyer in the market for a new home today has more options than ever, and each has his or her own list of must-haves. Leverage the opportunity to show a home’s strength by marrying curb appeal and charm with a few upgrades that deliver on peace of mind.

Written by Melissa Birdsong who is vice president for Trend, Design & Brand, Lowe’s Companies, Inc. 

Displaying blog entries 11-17 of 17




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