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Energy Efficient Home Hacks to Complete Before End of Summer

By Courtni Wisenbaker-Scheel

September 4, 2017

The soaring temperatures of the time come with sky-high energy bills. If you’re looking to improve your home’s energy efficiency as your HVAC kicks into overdrive, consider adding these energy efficient home hacks to your weekend warrior to-do list.

Increase Insulation

Air leakages can occur anywhere in your home, resulting in your AC unit having to work that much harder to keep your home comfortable. Adding a new layer of insulation is one of the most cost-effective ways to make a home more energy efficient. Best of all, you can do this easy hack yourself! Before laying any new insulation, be sure to plug up any large openings and seal off small cracks, especially around attic hatches, window frames, and electrical outlets.

Smart Home Automation

It seems like almost every electronic device now has a smart alternative on the market. Though it’s easy to write off this technology as a luxury, most of these devices can actually go a long way in helping to reduce your energy usage each month. Whether it’s a thermostat that learns your family’s habits or a dishwasher that only runs during off-peak energy hours, smart home appliances and devices can go a long way in helping curb your family’s energy demands.

 Close Your Blinds

Sometimes the best hacks are also the easiest—and cheapest! By simply closing your blinds, especially for south- and west-facing windows, you have the potential to save upwards of seven percent off your energy bill, as well as lowering the ambient temperature by up to 20 degrees. Considering that almost 30 percent of unwanted humid summer heat comes in from your windows, it makes sense to drop the shades on the afternoon sun. Better yet, if it’s in your budget, replace those worn-out windows altogether. Energy Star has found that most homeowners can expect to see an average 12 percent drop in their home’s energy consumption after replacing single-pane windows with Energy Star qualified alternatives.

Landscape to Lower Energy

Think of landscaping as your exterior blinds, and plant a few trees along the south side of your home to help block direct sunlight from ever making it to your windows. Ensure that any tree you plant is a leafy variety, rather than an evergreen, so that you can get exceptional shade in the summer and plenty of warming sun in the leafless winter months. Similarly, plant evergreen shrubs around your home’s foundation to add year-round insulation.

Cooking Counts

Summer is virtually synonymous with grilling, but did you ever consider just how much energy you can save by sparking up some charcoal instead of your oven? Not only will you be sparing yourself any operating costs, but you’ll also prevent your HVAC from having to combat the added heat your culinary masterpiece is likely to create.

The best way to make your home as energy-efficient as possible is to have a professional perform an energy audit. The typical audit usually only takes a couple hours of your time, but it has the potential to save you thousands of dollars in reduced energy expenses year round.

With a little planning ahead and a few upgrades, you’ll be saving energy daily!

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Home Safety: How to Protect Your Family at Every Stage of Life

By Sage Singleton

August 9, 2017

We all want to keep our families as safe as possible, but home safety requirements change as your family grows and evolves. From newborns to pets, a variety of different strategies can ensure your home is as safe and accommodating as possible for your family. Here are some simple tips to help keep your family safe through every stage of life. Getting your home

Getting your home ready for a new baby

Babyproofing a home is largely about protecting them from their own curiosity. Once a baby learns to crawl, anything in reach is fair game to be grabbed, touched, or chewed on.

  1. Install baby gates to keep certain rooms off-limits. This is especially important near stairs.

  2. Fill unused electrical outlets with plastic plugs. Outlets are like magnets for babies.

  3. Store breakable items out of reach.

  4. Keep small items out of reach as well. Small objects that could be put into mouths are a major choking hazard. A good rule of thumb is if it can fit in an empty toilet paper roll, it is small enough for a baby to choke on.

Home safety for toddlers and elementary-age children

Toddler-proofing is a little different from babyproofing in that a toddler is usually more resourceful about getting into things they shouldn’t be. Toddlers will climb, open doors and drawers, and generally get themselves into trouble.

  1. Move anything small or breakable up higher now that your child is walking and climbing. You’d be surprised at what they can reach.

  2. If you have a pool, build a fence around it. You’ll want a barrier at least a few feet high to make it harder for your toddler to climb over.

  3. Secure drawers and cabinets with childproof latches.

  4. Place safety locks on windows and doors to prevent them from being opened.

  5.  If you don’t have a home security system, install one for added safety. Choosing a system with the right features, like motion sensors and security cameras, can help you know if your curious toddler runs out the door or it can help you keep tabs on things while the babysitter is over.

Safety during the teenage years

As your child grows into their teens, the focus moves further from physical safety and more towards online safety and general home security. Online safety is extremely important with teenagers in the house.

  1. Set clear boundaries and expectations with your teen regarding potentially dangerous situations. These could involve simple subjects like safe driving or complex topics like drinking and drugs.

  2. Keep alcohol, firearms, and any prescription or over-the-counter drugs locked up in a safe place.

  3. Educate your teen about safe internet usage. This includes avoiding malware, being smart on social media, and using privacy settings.

Pet-proofing your home

Pets make great additions to the family, but they come with their own safety needs. In many ways, pet-proofing is similar to babyproofing. Pet-proofing involves keeping harmful items out of their reach and making sure that they can’t escape the house or yard and run off.

  1. Keep cleaning products, chemicals, and medications in high places or locked where pets can’t stumble upon them.

  2. If your pet likes to chew on (or eat!) household items, make sure that you don’t leave anything lying around. It can be helpful to do a quick walkthrough of your home a couple times a day, such as when you leave and return from work.

  3. If you have a home security system, make sure the motion sensors are capable of detecting and ignoring your pets.

  4. If you have a fenced yard, check it for weaknesses or small gaps that a pet could squeeze through.

Getting your home ready for your parents to move in

As our parents get older, it’s not uncommon for them to move in with us. This can help ensure their safety and prevent the loneliness that often comes with old age. It can also present some unique challenges when it comes to home safety.

Depending on your parent’s age and their physical and mental well-being, you may need to make small home improvements for their convenience or physical safety. In general, you’ll want to try to minimize the potential for falls and make sure that help is always within reach.

  1. Install grab bars in the bathrooms near the toilet and shower. These bars can help support a person as they move in and out of the shower or tub, both making this task easier and helping prevent falls. Make sure they can support the weight of the person who’ll be using them.

  2. Walk through your home and check for objects that might make tripping hazards. Throw rugs, children’s toys, and pet toys can all be dangerous for people lacking the eyesight or reflexes to maneuver around them easily.

  3. Set up a medical alert system. This is a wearable device that essentially functions as a panic button—if a person falls or has a medical emergency, they can push the button to get instant access to help.

  4. Learn which foods are hazardous for senior health. As your parents age, their immune system weakens—making them more susceptible to food poisoning and health risks. Prepare meals at home that won’t threaten the health of your aging parents.

Your family grows and changes as time goes by, and so should your home safety plans. If you want to keep up with each of your family members, continually assess their needs. These tips should give you a great starting point towards building a safer home for your family.

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Your Move Simplified: The 9 Best Apps for Moving

By Cosette Jarrett

July 17, 2017

It’s no secret that moving is a headache. You need to purchase packing supplies, change your address, clean your current home, and more. Luckily, technology can make the process less painful. Whether you’re choosing the best mover or expertly packing your belongings—there’s an app for that. Read on for useful apps to help you streamline your moving process. 

Unpakt

Book, manage, and pay for your move all within the Unpakt app. No need to fill out multiple request forms or call different movers for quotes. Simply enter your move details into the app to see moving prices in several cities across 37 states. 

Hire a mover via Unpakt online or on iOS and Android.

TaskRabbit

Get your home or apartment ready for the move by hiring a Tasker to complete home repairs, deep clean your home, and disassemble your bed frame. Services are available in most major cities.

Get your chores done with TaskRabbit on iOS and Android.

MagicPlan

Take pictures of your new home or apartment before your move, and use them to create detailed floor plans with MagicPlan. These floor plans allow you to view your space in 3D, decide where to put your couch, and plan DIY projects.

Visualize your space with MagicPlan on iOS and Android.

Wunderlist

Plan your move with Wunderlist, a to-do list web app. Create to-do lists, set deadlines, schedule reminders, and share your list with friends and family helping you move. You can also assign tasks to people you’ve shared your to-do list with. 

Make your to-do list online with Wunderlist.

Sortly

Pack with the help of Sortly, a digital organizer. Use the app to take inventory of what you packed in each box so you know where to find your wine opener, your favorite jeans, or your drill. With the premium account, you can create QR code labels for your boxes, access your account online, and export your lists via PDF and Dropbox.

Pack like a pro with Sortly on iOS.

Internet Speed Need Tool

Determine your ideal internet speed with this web app. The tool also shows internet providers in your area that offer your recommended speed—helpful if you’re moving to a new area. The internet speed you need will vary depending on how you use the internet. You may need faster speeds if your kids play video games, if you recently upgraded to a smart TV, or if you run an online business from home.

Determine the speed you need online with the Internet Speed Need Tool.

Postmates

Order late-night meals, cleaning supplies, basic toiletries, or lunch from virtually any store or restaurant in your city. Postmates will deliver the best your city has to offer right to your doorstep—saving you a trip while you’re busy unpacking. Postmates is available in over 200 cities.

Start receiving deliveries through Postmates on iOS and Android.

Nextdoor

Socialize with your new neighbors on Nextdoor, a private social networking app that over 145,000 neighborhoods use to stay connected. Find a babysitter, learn about a rash of car break-ins, and hear about neighborhood events all in one place.

Meet your neighbors through Nextdoor online or on iOS and Android.

Thumbtack

Hire house cleaners, interior designers, carpet cleaners, painters, home security companies, and more, with Thumbtack. Find professionals—in all fifty states—for anything you need in your new home or apartment.

Hire a professional via Thumbtack online or on iOS and Android.

While these apps might not make moving completely pain-free, they can help you get your home ready to move, hire the best mover, and find services in your new neighborhood. Whether you’re moving down the street or across the country, technology can help you save time, money, and energy.

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Modifying Your House for Disabled Accessibility Without Compromising Home Value

By Isaac Christiansen

July 10, 2017

While daily life can be challenging with a disability, innovations over the last few decades have made a new level of independence possible for the disabled. Services and products now make it possible for such individuals to attend school, run daily errands, and live in private homes in ever increasing numbers. Being able to live independently also prevents depression, increases lifespans, and can even improve some conditions.

But while this stay at home movement offers many benefits to the disabled and elderly, it is not without its costs.  Extensive modifications and renovations often have to be made to homes to accommodate disabled residents. Some of these renovations are fairly unintrusive (such as intercom and camera systems), but some accommodations require major renovations, such as the installation of chair lifts or elevators. If a homeowner considering such renovations is disabled, any associated costs are often accepted as part of the price of independent living. But what about a scenario in which a disabled individual resides in but doesn't own a private home? This could be costly for a homeowner in more ways than one.

Disabled friendly renovations to a home can be expensive in a couple of ways. There is the cost of the renovations themselves, which can be an ongoing process. They can limit a home's functionality and visual appeal for potential buyers, as well. On the other hand, there are a number of cost effective resources and techniques that both allow these renovations to be made and make such a home appealing to both disabled and able-bodied residents. Read on to learn more about increasing a home's accessibility without sacrificing its value.

What Does Adapting a Home for the Disabled Involve?
Adaptations of this type to private homes vary greatly depending on conditions of disability. And it's possible that these adaptations may have to change over time, just as disabilities do. The vast majority of disability adaptations that are installed in private homes are considered minor ones. This means that they are relatively inexpensive to install, relatively easy to uninstall, and don't lessen the value of the home in question. Examples of this type of adaptation include:
installing portable ramps

  • lowering stair railings

  • physically rearranging interior and exterior areas for easier access

  • lowering the heights of doorknobs, window latches, and light switches to be accessed by wheelchair users

  • adding or relocating interior and exterior lighting

  • installing cameras, intercom systems, and adapted telephones

  • installing modified latches and lock systems to accommodate those who have difficulty using their hands, such as arthritis sufferers

  • installing lower storage areas in kitchens

  • installing lever faucets in both kitchens and bathrooms

  • installing no slip flooring, grip bars, and shower chairs in bathrooms

These types of changes often cost under $1,000 and generally can be done by amateurs. These alterations also don't cause issues that can affect home values. Adaptations that are considered major alterations to a home include:

  • installation of elevators

  • installation of chair lifts on stairs

  • installation of ramping floors

  • new plumbing in kitchens and bathrooms, including lower sinks, showers, bathtubs, and higher toilets

  • accessible kitchens

  • adding accessible rooms to house

These types of changes generally cost well over $1,000. Unless homeowners possess various renovation skills, they should be made by professional contractors. And once such changes are made, they generally become a permanent part of the house. If such changes could limit future use by new owners, this could affect a home's value.

Saving Money and a Home's Value When Making Adaptations
Many individuals are unaware that federal grants are available for home modifications to assist the elderly and disabled. These modifications are also deductible at tax time. Such monies can certainly help to defray the cost of adaptations, even minor ones.

Sustaining a home's worth is probably not uppermost in a homeowner's thoughts when making changes to accommodate a disabled relative, but making intelligent and thoughtful changes when doing so can help to preserve home value. These include:

1. Not making permanent changes that impair or interfere with the house's basic functioning. In other words, the house should continue to be comfortable and accessible to all who use it, regardless of ability levels.

2. Going with the professionals. Yes, that internet video made dismembering your house look like a snap, but unless you truly have the time and skills needed for major renovations, paying a professional contractor now will save you and future occupants much money and heartbreak later. And given our aging population, a professionally adapted house done now could be much in demand in years to come.

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Are Shipping Containers the Future of Swimming Pools?

By Nick Caruso

June 27, 2017

One Canadian couple is making a splash transforming shipping containers into backyard swimming pools. (We always knew those shipping containers were universal!)

Paul and Denise Rathnam launched Modpools earlier this year and the idea has taken off, with orders mostly coming from the hottest locales in North America, particularly California, Nevada, Texas and Florida.

“The traditional pool is a symbol of excess and waste. This is a little more modern, more modest. We’re repurposing something rather than recycling. This pool can be resold, and you can take it with you if you move," Paul Rathnam told Vancouver Sun.

It's an interesting concept, for sure, and the design, once installed, looks pretty slick. It's as if your backyard was always destined to house a shipping container.


The standard size Modpool is eight feet wide by 20 feet long, and just over five feet deep. It also comes with a clear, acrylic window on one side, which is actually a pretty spiffy design element. Customers can opt to add another acrylic window on the other side for a see-through look if they want one.

In Canada, after delivery, a Modpool will cost you $35,000 plus tax, which could be a cheaper alternative for families planning on installing an in-ground swimming hole.

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How to Make Your Home Design Pet-Friendly

By the experts at Unpakt

June 19, 2017

Decorating your home is a fun, creative, and expressive process of putting yourself into your living space — but what about the furry members of your family? When laying out and decorating your home, there are some key elements that you can slightly alter or improve to make your home more pet-friendly, durable, and easy to keep looking and feeling fresh. Not only will you benefit, but your pets will feel more at home too. Here are some ways to make your home design pet-friendly.

Choose durable floors

Skip the wall-to-wall, expensive carpeting. Skip the softwood floors, no matter how beautiful. Both of these floors will quickly show the impacts of life with pets, either when they are covered in hair or are scratched up by little claws. Opt for ceramic tile in your most high traffic areas, like entryways and main rooms, and consider hardwood floors or even sealed terrazzo (kind of like concrete) elsewhere. Just remember that large dogs can still scratch hardwood, so maybe reserve it for bedrooms if your pup will leave a mark or add area rugs to cover a lot of the surface area. Word to the wise on those rugs? Don’t spend too much on them. No matter how diligent you are about cleaning them, once your pet has lived on them, they will never be the same.

Choose durable furniture

Whether you allow your pets on the furniture or not, their fur will find a way. Choose furniture with upholstery that is stain resistant and easy to clean — bonus points for couch cushions with covers that can be removed and washed. Leather or pleather couches won’t get covered in fur, but they will sustain a few scratches from puppy and kitty claws so don’t get too attached. Many furniture lines now make models with fabrics explicitly designed to be pet-proof…which might be worth the extra money in the long run!

Build a pet area near an entry

If you are a dog parent or have an outdoor cat, you need to deal with the comings and goings — and the stuff, dirt and debris that comes along with it. Make an area to hang leashes and other accessories for Barky, put a high-impact floor mat down to catch the muddy paws before they hit the clean floors, and consider even half-tiling the walls to prevent stains from the inevitable shake-off. Add some shelving and storage for treats, towels, and other knick-knacks, and your pet area will be well-stocked.

Avoid attractive plants or small decorations

Set your pet up for success: don’t leave your vintage collection of Beanie Babies at snout level, or decorate with knitted animals or felted things. Your pets will naturally assume you’ve left toys around the house, and you will be sad when they are chewed. Likewise, animals don’t always know which plants are and aren’t safe for nibbling. Have a look at the ASPCA’s list of toxic plants, and keep them out of the house for your pet’s wellbeing. Since you also want to avoid having to wrestle your decorations out of a puppy’s mouth, keep small items in a china closet or other enclosed area.

Choose toys that don’t make a mess

If you’ve ever had the brilliant idea to give your dog a rope indoors, you know: one messy toy can leave residue for a long time. If you are a fan of marrow bones or other food-like treats, do yourself a favor and leave them for outside time only. Rawhide really isn’t great for your dog anyway, but it will be guaranteed to make a mess of your floors. When giving your cat a catnip ball, choose a contained area so you don’t end up with flakes of catnip everywhere.

Groom and bathe your pets regularly

Fluffy may not love being groomed, but it will help keep the fur levels down. For dogs, depending on their hair you may bathe them at home or choose to bring them to the groomers. Either way, prevent your home from getting a film of animal dander and grease by keeping their fur clean. Tip: use a gentle, natural shampoo to prevent creating more dandruff!

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How to Prepare Your Home Before Going on Vacation

By Emily Long

June 12, 2017

Your summer vacation is finally here! You’ve booked flights, reserved hotel rooms, and scoped out the best places to eat along the way, but have you prepared your home for your absence? 

Nothing spoils a vacation like returning to smelly trash, sad houseplants, or an unexpected break-in. Whether you plan to be gone for a week or a month, there are a few simple steps you can take to get your home ready so you can relax and enjoy your time away.

Clean Up

Leave your home exactly as you’d like to find it when you return—like new! 

  • Empty your refrigerator of any perishable foods that will pass their enjoy-by dates while you are away, and toss open pantry items that will mold or go stale. 

  • Take out the trash and recycling. Don’t forget about smaller trash cans in bathrooms and utility rooms. 

  • Finish, fold, and put away laundry. You’ll likely have clothes to wash when you return, so get a jumpstart before you go.  

  • Wash your sheets and towels, and remake your beds. You’ll thank your past self when you come home to fresh linens in clean bedrooms and bathrooms. 

  • Wipe down counters, run your garbage disposal, sanitize toilets, and organize clutter.

Close Out

Reduce the possibility of surprise maintenance issues, which can be costly to fix, by keeping up with regular home repairs throughout the year. 

  • Perform routine inspections and weatherize. Make sure your heating and cooling systems, gas and water lines, and roof and windows are in good shape. Clean up your yard, mow the grass, and take care of any dead trees or overhanging limbs that could cause damage in severe weather. 

  • Unplug all small appliances. This will save power and eliminate the potential for things to short-circuit and cause significant electrical damage. 

  • Check your smoke detectors. Batteries die, parts wear out, and dust and other pollutants can impede alarm performance. Make sure your home is prepared in case of fire, and consider integrating your detectors into your home security system so the fire department is notified in an emergency. 

  • Turn off your water at the main shut-off valve to prevent damage in the case of a burst pipe or water heater malfunction. Consider installing a water and flood sensor, which detects moisture where it shouldn’t be and pushes notifications to your smartphone. 

  • Leave your closet doors ajar to prevent mold and musty smells from building up.

Secure

Protect your home and belongings from thieves. The highest percentage of burglaries occur during the summer months, and homes without security or alarm systems are up to 300 percent more likely to be broken into.

  • Set up remote monitoring. You can have a security system professionally installed or start with a wireless security camera that you can view from your smartphone. If you have a security monitoring service, let them know that you are traveling.

  • Collect spare keys. If you have house keys hiding under doormats or flower pots, bring them inside so prowlers don’t find them. Leave an extra set with a trusted neighbor or friend in case there’s an issue that needs to be addressed while you’re away.

  • Hold your mail and newspapers. Nothing signals that you are out of town like an overflowing mailbox or stack of unread papers on your front porch. Placing a hold with USPS is as easy as completing an online form and will prevent identity thieves from targeting sensitive information found in bills and credit card statements. 

  • Take advantage of home automation. You can link everything from smart locks that you can triple-check via smartphone app to smart doorbell cameras that sense motion on your front porch and have two-way audio. 

  • Close blinds into rooms that contain expensive items, and set up smart light timers that mirror your regular habits when you’re home. 

  • Ask for help. Have a neighbor park in your driveway while you’re gone, and enlist a friend to water your plants and check up periodically on your property.

A little bit of preparation will go a long way when it comes to leaving your home clean and secure, and enjoying your vacation stress-free!

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Protect Your Home from an Invisible-and Fatal- Danger: Radon

By John Egan

June 5, 2017

Roughly 57 lung cancer deaths per day are caused by a radioactive, invisible, odorless and tasteless gas lurking in millions of American homes. Fortunately, the presence of that gas can be detected and minimized.

After cigarette smoking, the radioactive gas—called radon—is the second leading cause of lung cancer deaths in the U.S., claiming the lives of about 21,000 people each year. Radon is the No. 1 cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers.

“These deaths are preventable, and as a nation there is an urgent need to take steps to save lives,” Harold Wimmer, president and CEO of the American Lung Association, said in 2016.

Radon comes from the natural breakdown of uranium. The gas seeps into a home from rocks and soil, typically through cracks and other holes in the foundation.

“Radon gas decays into radioactive particles that can get trapped in your lungs when you breathe,” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “As they break down further, these particles release small bursts of energy. This can damage lung tissue and lead to lung cancer over the course of your lifetime.”

The EPA says radon exposure is a preventable health risk, but testing is the only way to detect how much radon is inside your home.

Testing usually starts with a simple at-home kit that costs about $15, according to Kristina Snyder, an assistant with the radon program at Kansas State University. Radon kits are sold by hardware stores, home improvement warehouses, kit manufacturers, county extension services and local health departments, as well as online at sosradon.org.

Generally, the do-it-yourself kits are placed on the lowest level of your home where you and your family spend a significant amount of time, such as a first-floor living room. A DIY test lasts anywhere from two to 90 days, depending on the type of testing device.

The test will measure the level of radon in your home by the number of picocuries per liter (pCi/L). If the pCi/L level is above 4 as determined by lab analysis, the EPA recommends a follow-up test, either a short-term one (two to 90 days) or a long-term one (more than 90 days). The higher the level on the initial short-term test, the more urgent it is that a short-term test should be done as a follow-up, according to the EPA.

A test also can be done by a certified radon-testing professional.

The average level for indoor radon is 1.3 pCi/L, the EPA says. While the presence of even a tiny amount of radon can pose a threat, the EPA sets 4 pCi/L as the point where you definitely should take action to reduce in-home radon. One of every 15 homes in the U.S. has elevated levels of radon, according to the EPA.

If dangerous levels of radon are discovered, a homeowner can have a radon mitigation system installed—for about the same price as a big-screen TV—to decrease the risk of exposure, the American Lung Association says.

According to University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, radon exposure also can be reduced in our homes by:

  • Building new homes using radon-resistant construction techniques.

  • Performing a radon test every two years.

  • Conducting a radon test before or after a remodeling project.

  • Doing a radon test after sizable earthquake activity.

“Our ultimate goal is to eliminate lung cancer caused by radon, and the best way to do that is to improve the way we protect people indoors,” Wimmer, the American Lung Association leader, said in 2016. “As we work towards implementing national strategies to save lives, we also encourage Americans to take action today to test their own homes.

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Summer Pool Maintenance 101

By Housecall

May 30, 2017

Laying poolside is the quintessential way to spend a scorching summer day. It’s easy to imagine the fun that comes with owning a pool—floating in a tube on Caribbean blue waters, family poolside volleyball, romantic moonlit dips—without considering the responsibility that comes with it.

The truth is, owning a pool requires regular upkeep and maintenance: weekly vacuuming, chemical testing, and inspecting various filters, pumps, heaters, and more. But, by understanding the  cost of owning a pool and how to properly care for it, you can learn to avoid the common and costly mistakes that take the fun out of pool ownership.

Here are six easy ways to keep your pool party-ready this summer:

1.    Know Your Chemicals

An under-maintained pool doesn’t just look gross, it can also contain E. coli and other dangerous bacteria. On the flip side, over-chlorinating can cause swimming pool rash and eye irritation.

Fortunately, you don’t have to be a chemist to maintain proper chemical levels in your pool. Using chlorine and pH testing strips to clean your pool is straightforward with modern testing kits.

The colors on a testing kit chart represent your pH level, which tells you if you added too much or not enough chlorine. The ideal amount of chlorine and pH is:

  • a free chlorine concentration of at least 1 ppm and

  • pH 7.2–7.8

If your pool doesn’t match these standards, simply adjust the chemicals or water levels.

Test your pool’s chemical levels at least once a week to keep maintenance work low and the water ready for swimming.

Related: The 3 P’s of Poolside Staging

2.    Practice Quick, Daily Pool Cleaning

Pool cleaning is just like house cleaning—doing little chores everyday can prevent a cleaning disaster at the end of the week.

One of the easiest (but most important) pool maintenance chores is skimming the top of the pool every day for leaves, bugs, and dirt. This helps your water circulate correctly and keeps you from having to add chlorine too often, improving pool feel and aesthetics.

Make sure to clean out the strainer basket and scrub the sides of the pool with a brush or pumice stone about once a week to prevent algae buildup. These tiny chores go a long way in keeping your pool clear and bacteria free.

3.    Learn to Use Your Pool Vacuum

How often you have to vacuum depends on how vigilant you are about daily skimming, since dirt and leaves left on the surface eventually sink to the bottom.

Pool vacuums come in a wide variety of styles and prices, from largely automated robotic cleaners to handheld systems with telescopic poles.

Vacuuming the pool can require a little bit of work to set up, but it is a key ingredient to a healthy pool. And, the process can be about as fast and simple as vacuuming a carpet indoors once you’re familiar with the equipment.

4.    Shock Your Pool Twice A Season

Shocking your pool can sound scary, but all it means is adding a high volume of chemicals all at once in order to “shock” the system and kill bacteria. You only have to shock your pool about twice a season to counteract contamination.

For safety, make sure to wear protective eye goggles and rubber gloves when shocking the pool. Here are a few tips to help get you started:

  • Use one pound of shock per 10,000 gallons of water.

  • Dissolve one pound of shock solution in a five-gallon bucket of warm water before adding it to the pool.

  • Once the shock is dissolved, slowly pour the solution around the pool.

  • Shocking the pool works best at evenings or night. Not only can sunlight dissolve some chemicals and make them less effective, but the chlorine levels can balance out while you’re sleeping.

Just be sure to wait until chlorine levels are back to normal (anywhere from 15 minutes to 8 hours depending on the kind of shock you used) before going for a swim or you risk serious skin irritation.

5.    Check Your Water Level

Everyday summer play can cause major fluctuations in your pool’s water level. The perfect water level is halfway up the skimmer line.

If your water level gets too low it could reduce safety and ruin your pool’s pump. Adding water is easy: just grab a hose and fill it up. Be careful not to overfill your pool, though. Renting a pump to lower the water level can be labor intensive and expensive.

6.    Call in the Pros

With the above tips, you can take care of most summer pool maintenance by yourself. But, a pool is still a complex system—chemicals, heaters, filters, pipes—and sometimes even the savviest pool owners need an expert opinion.

Getting a yearly checkup by  an expert to make sure all your equipment is working will save you money and keep your pool operating all summer long.

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Have 300K? Here’s How Much Home You Can Get

By Zoe Eisenberg

May 22, 2017

Looking to become a homeowner? Pre-approved for a 300k mortgage? A recent  GoBankingRates.com study broke down exactly how much home you could snag for 300 thousand big bones. This is especially helpful if you’re willing to move to find that dream home or get more for your money. If family or job security has you stuck in a pricey place, the study results may be a little depressing. (Sorry Hawaiians and Californians. Consider moving to Indiana).

To come up with these results, GoBankingRates hunted down the median property listing price in every state and the District of Columbia. They then divided these listing prices by $300,000 and voila - the median list price per square foot.

Below are best and worst states for your hard-earned homeowning money.

States That Buy the Most Square Footage for $300,000:

  1. Indiana: 3,478 Square Feet
  2. Mississippi: 3,402 Square Feet

  3. Arkansas: 3,390 Square Feet

  4. Ohio: 3,366 Square Feet

  5. West Virginia: 3,360 Square Feet

  6. Alabama: 3,256 Square Feet

  7. Oklahoma: 3,175 Square Feet

  8. Kansas: 3,053 Square Feet

  9. Missouri: 3,051 Square Feet

  10. Georgia: 3,020 Square Feet

States That Buy the Least Square Footage for $300,000:

  1. District of Columbia: 603 Square Feet
  2. Hawaii: 625 Square Feet

  3. California: 1,066 Square Feet

  4. Massachusetts: 1,327 Square Feet

  5. Colorado: 1,471 Square Feet

  6. Oregon: 1,588 Square Feet

  7. Rhode Island: 1,634 Square Feet

  8. New York: 1,664 Square Feet

  9. Washington: 1,694 Square Feet

  10. Montana: 1,779 Square Feet

For the full study results, click here.

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6 Tips to Spring Clean Your Bills

By Sarah Brown

May 16, 2017

Ah, spring. A time of renewal. A time to put out the old and bring in the new. Many people have spring cleaning rituals they go through each year, tidying up their homes and cycling out old stuff that doesn’t get used. Why not do the same for your bills?

Spring cleaning your bills can be as simple as turning the thermostat up a few degrees to save on electricity or switching cable providers. Let’s look at a few great ways to get those monthly bills down.

1. Invest in a Programmable Thermostat

Heating and air conditioning can be a major source of wasted electricity. Programmable thermostats can help keep your home at the right temperature when you’re there and reduce energy use when you’re not. They’re also just plain convenient.

Max Robinson, a writer for Turnbull & Scott Heating, says, “Investing in a programmable thermostat is one of the simplest ways to save money on your heating, as you set your heating to turn on and off at specific times throughout the day.”

You could also take it a step further and go for a smart thermostat that learns your temperature preferences and automatically adjusts when you’re away from home. These thermostats may save you quite a bit in monthly energy use, though some models are a bit pricey up front.

2. Keep Your Fridge Running at Peak Performance

Refrigerators and freezers are another big source of energy use. To curb that waste, make sure to keep the doors open for the shortest amount of time possible and always double-check that you’ve closed them completely. It’s easy to have something inside the fridge prevent the door from sealing, which can lead to a lot of wasted electricity as the appliance struggles to keep your food cold.

Lauren Haynes, a home cleaning expert at Star Domestic Cleaners, has a few more tips: “Regular defrosting is a must, as well as avoiding putting hot food in it or exposing the appliance to a direct sunlight. . . These things will help your fridge or freezer maintain [a consistent] temperature, which will lead to smoother energy-efficient work regardless of the season.”

3. Shop Around for Cheaper Energy Providers

If you happen to live in a deregulated area, you may have a choice of several different energy providers, so shop around. Don’t stick with a company simply because you’ve always used it—you could save a significant amount of money every month after a switch.

“You can easily save 25 percent or more on your monthly energy costs just by shopping electric suppliers,” says Kelly Bedrich, co-founder of ElectricityPlans.com. “Customers can reduce their rates from as much as 15 cents/kWh to as little as 7 cents/kWh. Changing electricity providers requires almost no effort and zero change in lifestyle.”

You can’t go wrong with this one. Again, though, only certain areas will be eligible. Check out this map of deregulated states and see if this is an option for you.

4. Negotiate a Lower Rate on Your Cable Bill

If you like your cable provider but wish the prices were just a little lower, you’ll love this tip. Many people never think to negotiate with their current cable company, but it’s always worth trying.

“Nowadays, with competition from other cable, satellite, and fiber providers—as well as consumers being able to cut the cord and leave cable altogether—providers are needing to be more accommodating,” says Rob Caiello, vice president of Marketing at Allconnect. “When it comes to negotiating a cable bill, a kind request will go a long way in helping you get a better deal. . .The representatives usually have more flexibility than they initially let on.”

5. Switch to a Different TV Provider

If your cable company just won’t budge on pricing, it might be time to consider switching. No matter where you live, there will almost always be another option for getting television. Many people don’t realize that satellite TV providers aren’t as tied to the boundaries drawn up by cable monopolies. These providers can often get you service even in remote or very rural areas that only have one main cable provider.

“You’d really be surprised how much you can save by shopping around, especially if you let the representative know that you’re looking at competitors,” says Paul McHardy, a representative from USDish. “And often, you don’t have to give up any of your favorite channels in the switch. Although there may be slight programming differences, most providers will have the most common channels covered.”

6. Cancel Unused Subscriptions

Many of us have old subscriptions we no longer need. Maybe you get a magazine every month and immediately toss it. Or maybe you subscribed to a service like Hulu to watch one show and just never canceled. These unused subscriptions could be adding up to a big expense.

“People spend an average of $512/year on unwanted subscriptions, often because they don't even realize they're signed up to those services,” according to a representative from Truebill.That’s a big chunk of change. As part of your spring cleaning, look at the services you subscribe to and decide which ones you really want to keep.

These tips will get you off to a great start with spring cleaning your bills and getting your expenses under control. Make it a regular part of your spring routine and see just how much you can save.

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Home Inspections: Items That Aren't Deal Breakers

By Whitney Bennett

May 8, 2017

After making an offer on a home, you’ll enter into a contract. Part of that contract should always include getting a home inspection. It is recommended that any homebuyer make an offer to purchase contingent upon a home inspection. This allows you to withdraw your offer if there are any major issues discovered during an inspection.

More than likely, the home inspector will find problems that need to be fixed before closing. Major foundation issues and significant water damage are at the top of the list of signs to walk away from.

On the other hand, there are some home defects found during an inspection that don’t have to be deal breakers. Many of them can be fixed, and they can be used to negotiate with the seller for a lower selling point or additional help with the closing costs.

Lead-based paint

Lead-based paint was banned in 1978, but it’s still possible that you could purchase a home that contains it, if it was built before the ban. The sellers should disclose this, but the home inspector may find it as well.

Ultimately, it is up to you to decide how comfortable you are with purchasing a home that has lead-based paint, but it doesn’t have to be a deal breaker. You can hire a contractor who is certified to remove lead-based paint, and the home will be completely safe.

Concrete floor cracks

Cracks in a concrete basement floor may seem like a structural problem, but this is natural and not indicative of significant damage. Small cracks occur in concrete because it’s a porous substance. These cracks can be fixed at a relatively low cost, and shouldn’t be a reason for you to back out of a contract.

What is something that’s cause for concern are cracks in concrete walls, as these may or may not be associated with the structure. If the wall has moved or if the cracks have a large opening, then these would be deal breakers.

Mold

Mold is something that no one ever wants to see in a home you put an offer on, but just because you find a little bit of mold by the shower, doesn’t mean you need to back out of your offer, at least not immediately.

If mold is found during the home inspection, have a qualified mold inspector take a look. Not all molds are toxic, but the safest way to determine if this is a deal breaker is by hiring a mold professional.

Bug infestations

Bug infestations can cause significant damage to the home’s structure if they aren’t exterminated quickly and efficiently. A home inspector may find signs of an infestation during an inspection, but how do you tell if it’s truly a deal breaker?

The best way to know if there is pest damage to the home’s structure or foundation is to ask a qualified pest expert to do an additional inspection of the home. Someone who is a specialist will be able to tell you if the home just has a few bugs, or if you need to rescind your offer.

When problems arise during home inspections, it doesn’t always mean you have to back out of your contract. Home inspectors will often find problems outside of their scope of expertise, so always get a second opinion from a specialist before making a final decision. In many instances, these problems are opportunities to negotiate with the seller. You can request that the seller do the repairs, or ask for money to put towards repairs.

You can also ask the seller to include a home warranty on the home in the contract of sale, but it won’t repair the problems found in a home inspection contract. A home warranty is there to protect you from aging systems and appliances after you buy. Think of getting car insurance on a car that was just wrecked and then opening a claim. It wouldn’t work, because the insurance was put on after the damage happened. The same goes for a home warranty.

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