9 Ways to Avoid Overspending on Fire Pits

Indoor evenings on the couch are so last year. Literally. Relaxing around a fire and under the stars is about to be the place for a perfect night. But a built-in fire pit can cost upward of $5,000 for an above-ground, propane-burning brick fire pit without installation. That’s a pricey upgrade.

Don’t worry. With these money-saving tips, you can build a fire pit for less than a grand — and still have a fabulous one:

#1 Choose Wood Instead of Gas

Gas fire pits are more expensive because you’ll have to hire a plumber to run the gas line and an electrician to power the pit.

A wood fire pit has none of that cost, which will run at least several hundred dollars. Besides, who doesn’t love the smokey ambiance of a wood fire?

#2 If You Want Gas, Put It Close to Your House
OK, not everyone loves an ashy, smoky fire pit. If you do want the simplicity of gas, you can get it most cheaply by keeping that gas line as short as possible.

The farther from your house that plumber has to run the gas line, the longer he’ll be there. And the longer he’s there, the more it will cost. And remember the electrician you’re going to pay to run wires to power the automatic starter? Same thing.

#3 Skip the Built-In Seating

Those stone benches in a semicircle around a flaming fire pit look like money. That’s because they’re made of it.

Built-in benches that will seat six people with a comfortable amount of personal space can cost as much — or more — as the fire pit itself.

A resin Adirondack chair can cost $150 or less. Plus, chairs are easier on your butt as well as your wallet.

“Built-in benches look cool, but no one wants to sit on them,” says Aaron Rogers of Southern Poolscapes. “They’re really uncomfortable.”

#4 Don’t Do Custom Anything
You can have a fire pit designed just for you. One-of-a-kind. But unless you’re a trust-funder or just like spending money like one, stick with a contractor’s standard build. Most offer prefab, modular units that cost at least half as much as a custom build.

“I’ve put in custom fire pits that cost as much as $7,000 — just for the pit,” Rogers says. That means the patio cost even more. Yowsa!

#5 Go With a Paver Patio

Flagstone gives you the natural beauty of real stone, but it costs $15 to $30 per square foot for patio flooring and $25 per square foot for flagstone pavers.

Unless you’re making a one-person pit (no judgment, introverts), that’s gonna add up. A paver patio looks manufactured, but it costs $6 to $10 per square foot. “Concrete pavers are a good way to cut costs and still have a good-looking patio,” says Ted Essig of Sky Valley Landscape.

#6 Select an (Almost) Smokeless Fire Pit
Smokeless fire pits, or smokeless stoves, aren’t entirely smokeless. But even though they’re wood burning, they generate less ash than wood fire pits The list of pros is extensive: durable, easy to maintain, efficient, usually made of stainless steel, and sometimes portable.

Keep in mind that some aren’t safe to use on decks, so for those, you’ll need a heat shield or fire pit mat.

The price ranges from about $90 to about $600 if you want a high-end Solo Stove.

#7 Choose a Decomposed Granite Patio (It’s the Cheapest!)
It looks like sand. It isn’t fancy. But it’s cheap as heck.

A pro can lay this stuff for as little as $2 a square foot.

Very important: Heavy rainfall can wash away a decomposed granite patio. If you live in Phoenix, decomposed granite is a great option. If you live in New Orleans, keep shopping.

#8 DIY a Fire-Pit Kit
If you’re handy, DIY it. You can get a kit for a wood-burning fire pit for $130 and up. (You can buy kits for gas fire pits, too, but they cost a lot more and you’re still going to need to run a gas line.)

The easiest fire-pit kits are made of modular stone that you can stack, no mortar necessary. They’re like Legos for grown-ups. Each brick has a raised edge that makes it sit securely on the one below it. The only tool you’ll need is a wrench.

But be prepared: These kits can weigh as much as half a ton. Buy one you can have delivered.

#9 DIY the Patio, Too
If you’re building the pit, why not build the patio, too? It’s just a floor, so no design skills required.

In order of difficulty: A decomposed granite patio is easiest to DIY. Pavers are next, followed by flagstone.

“Fifty to 60 percent of a patio cost is the labor,” Rogers says. You can do this, thrifty homeowner. Go to YouTube, search “How to build a patio,” and get going.

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

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14 Hacks You Can Do Now to Make House Cleaning Go Faster

It’s the little things that get you every time. And that goes for your home, too. Stained porcelain, carpets, stinky appliances — they all hurt your home’s market value in the end. And, frankly, they’re no fun to look at every day, either.

Get your house put back together with these house-cleaning hacks. No trip to the hardware store needed. You’ve already got what you need with these quick-and-easy house-cleaning tips.

#1 Kitty Litter for Oil Spills
Oil spots on the garage floor are unsightly, but they’re super easy to clean with kitty litter. Buy the cheapest clay litter you can find. Pour a thick layer on the stain, then walk on it to crush it into the oil. Let it sit for 30 minutes, and then sweep it up. Now you’ve preserved your garage floor and your resale value.

#2 Nail Polish to Stop Rust Rings
Nothing beats the longevity of porcelain, but when it’s rust-stained, it loses its appeal. So if your metal cans of shaving cream leave orange rings on your sinks or bathtubs, paint the bottoms with clear nail polish. Now when you put down the can, there’s a layer of protection between it and the surface.

#3 Vinegar for Hard Water Spots

Hard water spots show up around the edge of tubs and faucets, even when you’re diligent about cleaning. Get rid of them with white vinegar. Douse a rag, then wipe the stains away. If the stains persist, let the rag sit directly on them for several minutes, then buff the area with a clean, dry towel.

#4 Alcohol to Remove Nail Polish from Carpet
Nail polish on the carpet can give you an even bigger moment of panic than a red wine dump. Keep your zen. Some rubbing alcohol and a microfiber cloth will do the trick.

#5 Swiffer for Paint Prep
Sometimes it takes more time to prep walls for painting than to apply the color. Speed the cleaning portion of the process by dusting the walls with a Swiffer.

#6 Rubber Gloves for Pet Hair

If you’re tired of finding pet hair on carpet and upholstery, here’s a fast, green fix. Run a rubber glove over the material. The glove creates static, so the hair clings, instantly transferring from the fibers to the latex. Wash off the glove, and use again it every time things get hairy.

#7 Toothpaste to Fill Small Holes in Walls
Need a super quick way to repair small holes (less than 1/4 inch) in the wall? Fill them with toothpaste. Smooth it on with a putty knife (a wooden ruler or playing card works, too), and rinse it with a damp cloth to remove the excess. Then paint over the toothpaste — or, if you’re lucky, your toothpaste might actually blend with your wall color.

#8 Lemon for Stained, Stinky Microwaves

Lemons. We love them in lemonade and Sidecars. But they also cut stinky, burned-on food in microwaves.

Here’s the trick: Pour half a cup of water into a bowl. Slice a lemon in half, and squeeze the juice into the water. Then drop the lemon into the bowl. Microwave for three minutes, let stand for five. Remove the bowl, and wipe down the microwave. So easy!

#9 Salt, Flour, and Vinegar to Shine Fixtures
Brass and copper tarnish when exposed to air, making your faucets and fixtures look dull. Give them a shine with a paste made of equal parts salt, flour, and vinegar. Apply, let it sit for up to an hour (a good time to make it a twofer and tackle other chores), then rinse and buff dry. The paste naturally breaks down the oxidation, leaving your fixtures gleaming.

#10 Alcohol to Shine Stainless Steel

Stainless steel appliances are beautiful and durable, but unless they’ve been treated to resist fingertips, they’re going to stain. Rather than buying specially made, expensive cleaners, use rubbing alcohol. Then follow-up with a light coating of olive oil to protect the shine. (Be sure to wipe up any excess oil so that it doesn’t become rancid.)

#11 Car Wax for the Stovetop
Next time you clean your metal stovetop, give your future self a break. Buff a small amount of car wax onto the cool metal surface of the stove. In the same way it prevents grime from sticking to your car, it’ll make subsequent stove cleanups quicker and easier.

#12 Socks to Clean Blinds

Window blinds seem to collect the worst of the stuff in the air: pollen, cooking grease, and dust. And they are so tedious to clean. To simplify the process, grab a sock. Slide it on your hand, soak it in water and vinegar, and then rub your hand over the slats. Clean both sides of the slat at once by gently pinching it between your thumb and fingers and sliding your hand across it.

#13 Blow Dryer to Bust Dust and Water Marks
Never spend money on canned air again. Instead, grab your hair dryer, set it to cool, and blow crumbs and dust free. This works for any hard-to-reach spot — from keyboards to that crevice between the stove and the cabinet. While you’ve got the hair dryer handy, use it to buff water marks out of hardwood floors or wood countertops. Set it on medium, and hold it a couple of inches from the stain. As you heat the wood, buff away the mark with a soft cloth. Keep wiping till the stain is gone.

#14 A Drone to Inspect the Roof

Let’s say you need to check the roof for branches after a storm. Don’t pull out the ladder. Boring. Borrow a kid’s drone. Eyeballing the roof from ground level reduces wear and tear, keeps you safe, and gives you a chance to play pilot.

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

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What You Need to Know About Buyer Love Letters to Home Sellers

Did you hear the one about the dog who wrote a love letter? Not to his owner, but to a home seller. Well, actually the dog’s owner wrote the letter in Buddy’s voice, describing how wag-worthy the house was and how much he craved a game of fetch in the backyard.

Doggie ghostwriting, which happened IRL, is just one example of how home buyers are using creativity to try to get their offer accepted. It sounds harmless enough. But buyer letters to home sellers can unintentionally create Fair Housing Act discrimination and risks for buyers, sellers, and their agents.

How Love Letters to Home Sellers Work
“A love letter is any communication from the buyer to the seller where the buyer is trying to set themselves apart,” says Deanne Rymarowicz, associate counsel at the National Association of REALTORS®. “ It could be an email, a Facebook post, a photo. Some buyers send elaborate packages with videos and letters. The communication has the intent of ‘pick me, and here’s why.’”

Buyers who write the letters typically send them to the listing agents, along with their offers, says Paul Knighton, CEO and cofounder of MORE Realty in Tigard, Ore. “They ask, ‘Would you please pass this along to the sellers?’ They’re trying to do what they can to get their offer accepted, especially in a competitive market.”

Letters Can Risk Violating Fair Housing Act
While these love letters may seem harmless enough, they can create a problem if buyers accidentally reveal information in one or more of the seven areas protected by the Fair Housing Act, Rymarowicz explains. Those areas are race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, or national origin. “Buyers could say something like, ‘this is down the street from our temple,’ or ‘the hallways are wide enough to accommodate my wheelchair.’ Anything that provides personal information related to one of the prohibited bases for discrimination could result in a violation if a seller makes a decision based on that information.”

Do Love Letters to Home Sellers Work?

In addition to creating potential risk, love letters to sellers aren’t all that effective, Knighton says. A case in point: Several years ago, one of his clients got 14 offers overnight, ranging from $219,000 to $250,000. “A person who offered $225,000 wanted to send a love letter. I said to him, ‘You’re writing an offer that’s $25,000 under the highest offer. A letter’s not going to help.’ He wrote it anyway, but the seller didn’t even read it and took the higher offer. The offer needs to stand on its own.”

Beyond ignoring the letters, some sellers may be completely turned off, Rymarowicz says. “They may think, ‘This is a financial transaction.’”

Even the circumstances can suggest Fair House Act discrimination, she explains. Say that an offer with a love letter got the house but was less attractive than an offer without a letter. “If the losing buyer doesn’t share characteristics of the seller and the winning buyer does, you could potentially have a situation. If sellers accept love letters, it’s more important that they document the basis of their decision when selecting a winning offer.”

Tips to Avoid Violating the Fair Housing Act
Here are five tips to avoid risk of violating the Fair Housing Act:

– Keep the contract in mind: Knighton says real estate pros at his firm talk to buyers and sellers about contract boundaries. “We say, ‘Please don’t communicate with the other party, because we are in contract negotiations and need to manage time frames.’”
– Focus on objective information: Find ways to differentiate yourself on objective terms. And talk to the agent about how to improve the substance of your offer, Rymarowicz advises. “Can you make a larger earnest money deposit? Can you give them a longer closing date?”
– Proceed with caution: The NAR discourages buyer letters to home sellers and advises caution, according to Rymarowicz.
– Talk to your agent: Don’t be surprised if your real estate agent brings up the subject. “If you’re the seller, the listing agent may talk to you about the potential for Fair Housing violations. They may ask if you want to accept the risks,” Rymarowicz says. If the agent doesn’t raise the subject of buyer letters, the buyer or seller can do so.
– Know your state law: Oregon passed a law governing how letters to home sellers are used. “Effective January 2022, a seller’s agent must reject any communication from a buyer other than customary documents,” Knighton says.

Even if a buyer letter to a seller focuses on the property and not the buyer, there’s little to be gained, Knighton says. “There’s risk, but the reward isn’t there. Instead, focus on writing a really strong offer. That’s what has to stand out.”

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

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Extend your Outdoor Living Season

Make an outdoor living area comfy long after the sun sets or the leaves turn with outdoor lighting, a patio heater, and a glowing firepit or portable fireplace.

Light the Deck or Patio
The sun sets sooner on your outdoor living space in the fall, but that shouldn’t limit the hours you use your deck or patio. Adding low-voltage or solar outdoor lighting fixtures lets you party or relax well after dark.

With both lighting types, you can:

– Light deck railings and stairs
– Define the patio perimeter
– Illuminate the edges of paths and walkways
– Draw attention to a planter or tree
– Other fixtures light up dining tables, grill surfaces, and even underwater in swimming pools.

Low-voltage fixtures clip onto a safe, 12-volt cable connected to a transformer, which plugs into a GFCI-protected 120-volt electrical outlet. A timer or light-sensitive control automatically turns lights on and off.

For a pool area, a kit with eight LED step lights and 12 hardscape lights, plus wiring, a transformer, and installation, would cost about $3,000.

Solar outdoor lighting fixtures don’t need cables and transformers. They simply turn themselves on automatically after dark. Each standalone fixture stakes into the ground or secures to a deck or exterior surface. You’ll save energy, as a sunlight-charged battery powers the bulb. Solar light fixtures cost $188 to $231 for six lights, with installation ranging from $167 to $271.

Solar technology has improved over time. The lights generally include LED bulbs, which emit a large amount of light for their size and the amount of energy used. With about an eight-hour charge from the sun, solar lights can illuminate all evening. That said, the amount of sunlight around your house will greatly affect how the lights perform. Outside solar lights can last three or four years, and the LEDs,10 to 15 years.

Get Glowing with a Firepit, Portable Fireplace, or Smokeless Firepit
Bring a cozy glow and a stylish focal point to your outdoor living area with a firepit or portable fireplace. Irresistible for gathering, warming up, and roasting marshmallows, firepits and portable fireplaces come in a variety of materials, sizes, and styles. You’ll also find options for fueling your fire with wood, propane, gas, or gel cans.

Check local fire codes first to find out if your community allows the use of a firepit or portable fireplace on the patio or lawn. (Never use a fire feature on a wood deck.)

A firepit is an open bowl, dish, or pan that varies in size from 24 inches across to about 40 inches. A firepit may come on a stand (some with wheels) or nestle into a tiled tabletop. Select a model with screening to contain flyaway sparks. A wood-burning firepit typically costs $500 to $1,300 including installation, and a gas firepit ranges from $900 to $3,800 including installation.

A portable outdoor fireplace ($104-$498) features a chimney to vent smoke up and away from people. Some portable fireplaces offer 360-degree views of the fire.

A smokeless firepit, or smokeless stove, is a popular choice. Despite the name, they aren’t entirely smokeless, but they generate less ash than a wood-burning firepit. The price ranges from $90 to $600.

Warm Up with a Patio Heater

Boost the warmth of your outdoor living area by as much as 15-25 degrees in the fall or spring with the addition of a portable patio heater. You’ll find three basic models:

1. Freestanding units resemble large floor lamps. Set them anywhere on your patio that will accommodate their 7-8 foot height. Some models include wheels for mobility. Expect to pay from $153 to $887, depending on heat output and fuel source.

2. A tabletop patio heater rests on a table, bench, or garden wall. These compact units typically produce less heat than tall, freestanding models. Prices range from $72 to $148.

3. Ceiling- or wall-mount patio heaters free up floor and table space, and typically emit heat via a halogen lamp. Prices vary from $112 to $866.

Make your selection based on how much outdoor living area you want to heat and whether you want a model powered by electricity or natural gas (each requiring a connection) or with a propane tank, which allows mobility.

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

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6 October Home Maintenance Tasks

The temps are starting to drop; the smell of wood smoke is in the air.

Temps are more chilly than warm. That’s when veteran homeowners know it’s time to do these six things if they want to avoid grief or overspending.

#1 Buy Appliances
Whisper to them. Do a rain dance. Whatever it takes to get your old appliances to wait until fall to go on the fritz. Manufacturers bring out their latest models during the fall, and store owners offer big sales on appliances they want to move out — like last year’s most popular dishwasher. So September, October, and November are great months to buy.

But October is right in the middle, when there’s still plenty of selection and retailers might be more willing to haggle.

Refrigerators are the exception because new models don’t come out until spring.

#2 Switch the Direction of Ceiling Fans

Most have a switch to allow the ceiling fan blades to rotate either clockwise or counterclockwise. One way pushes air down to create a nice breeze, and the other sucks air up, helping to distribute the heat. Think counterclockwise when it’s warm and clockwise when it’s cool.

#3 Clean Windows
Daylight is about to dwindle so why not get as much of it as you can? Clean off all the bugs, dust, and grime from your windows while the weather is still warm enough to do so. For streak-free windows, combine ¼-cup of white vinegar with ¼ to ½ teaspoon of eco-friendly dish detergent and 2 cups of water.

If window cleaning isn’t a DIY job at your home, schedule a professional window cleaner (who, unlike most of us, is able to do it even when temperatures plummet) before the end of the month. The closer it gets to the holidays, the busier they get. Bright sunshine on winter’s darkest days makes it totally worthwhile.

#4 Schedule a Heating Unit Checkup
To ensure your family will be able to feel their toes all winter, schedule early in the month for your heating unit to be serviced. As temperatures drop, service companies get busier.

Whether you hire your heating company’s technician or a contractor to do it, they’ll clean soot and corrosion from the combustion chamber, replace filters, and check the whole system for leaks, clogs, and damage. Nothing pairs with a pending blizzard better than the assurance that you’ll be weathering the storm with warm air piping through the vents and cocoa in hand.

#5 Get a Chimney Sweep to Inspect the Fireplace
It’s time to dust off and sweep the chimney! Best to hire someone who knows wood-burning fireplaces. A professional chimney sweep will ensure your wood-burning fireplace burns more efficiently and will help prevent chimney fires and carbon monoxide poisoning during the winter. So, yeah, it’s pretty important.

Tip: If you don’t already have a chimney cap, this is also the time to add one to stop wild outdoor critters from crawling down it — and (yikes!) into your house.

#6 Insulate Exposed Pipes

If you’ve ever dealt with a burst pipe, you know it’s a sad, wet disaster worth preventing. To avoid the stressful (not to mention, expensive) ordeal, prep your home’s exposed pipes with foam or heat tape — choosing which one will work best with your climate. Remember: The most at-risk pipes are often those in unheated areas such as an attics, crawl spaces, and garages, so secure those first.

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

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Fall Landscaping/Lawn Care Tips

Fall is a great season for yard work — the weather is nice, plants are cheap, and veggies are hardy.

Here are three projects that’ll transform your yard without hitting your bank account too hard.

#1 DIY a Compost Bin
If you’re serious about a good-looking yard, blooming azaleas, and lush bushes, you need fertilizer. You can buy it — or get some for free if you build your own compost bin with just a few pieces of salvaged wood and galvanized steel mesh, and corrugated sheet metal roof for the top.

A good size is 4-by-6 feet with two chambers. On one side, pile raked leaves so they can become mulch. On the other side, keep an old trash can with a tight lid for depositing food scraps.

Money-saving tip: Always shop in your own scrap pile first, or salvaged building stores — you’ll be surprised how much money you can save.

#2 Beautify a Steep Slope With Retaining Walls
With concrete blocks averaging only $1.59 each, and DIY help, you can turn an ugly eyesore (that you’d also hate to mow if it was lawn — see above) into something gorgeous by building retaining walls.

Money-saving tip: Plants are cheaper in fall because nurseries like to clean out their inventories — often between 20% and 50% off. Or, better yet, get them for free from neighbors and friends.

Gardeners have to divide and cut back their plants in the fall, so don’t be afraid to ask if you can take advantage of their unwanted offshoots. Chances are they’d be happy to give them to you.

#3 Build an Edible Garden

Prepare your garden for fall veggies by pulling out all summer plants that are done, turning and loosening the soil, removing all weeds, and adding compost. Then plant vegetables that thrive in cooler temperatures (down to 20 degrees F) — broccoli, spinach, and cabbage.

Money-saving tip: Plant hardy veggies that you like to eat frequently so you’ll save money on your grocery bill.

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

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Plan your Kitchen Remodel

Homeowners spend more money on kitchen remodeling than on any other home improvement project. And with good reason: Kitchens are the hub of home life and a source of pride.

A significant portion of kitchen remodeling costs may be recovered by the value the project brings to your home. A complete kitchen renovation with a national median cost of $68,000 recovers about 59% of the initial project cost at the home’s resale, according to the “Remodeling Impact Report” from the National Association of REALTORS®.

The project gets a big thumbs-up from homeowners, too. Those polled in the report gave their new kitchen a “joy score” of 10 (out of 10!), a rating based on those who said they were happy or satisfied with their remodeling, with 10 being the highest rating and 1 the lowest.

To help ensure you get a good return on your kitchen remodel, follow these seven tips:

#1 Plan, Plan, Plan

Planning your kitchen remodel should take more time than the actual construction. If you plan well, the amount of time you’re inconvenienced by construction mayhem will be minimized. Plus, you’re more likely to stay on budget.

How much time should you spend planning? The National Kitchen and Bath Association recommends at least six months. That way, you won’t be tempted to change your mind during construction and create change orders, which will inflate construction costs and hurt your return on investment.

Some tips on planning:

Study your existing kitchen: How wide is the doorway into your kitchen? It’s a common mistake many homeowners make: Buying the extra-large fridge only to find they can’t get it in the doorway. To avoid mistakes like this, create a drawing of your kitchen with measurements for doorways, walkways, counters, etc. And don’t forget height, too.
Think about traffic patterns: Work aisles should be a minimum of 42 inches wide and at least 48 inches wide for households with multiple cooks.

Design with ergonomics in mind: Drawers or pull-out shelves in base cabinets; counter heights that can adjust up or down; a wall oven instead of a range: These are all features that make a kitchen accessible to everyone — and a pleasure to work in.

Plan for the unforeseeable: Even if you’ve planned down to the number of nails you’ll need in your remodel, expect the unexpected. Build in a little leeway for completing the remodel. Want it done by Thanksgiving? Then plan to be done before Halloween.

Choose all your fixtures and materials before starting: Contractors will be able to make more accurate bids, and you’ll lessen the risk of delays because of back orders.

Don’t be afraid to seek help: A professional designer can simplify your kitchen remodel. Pros help make style decisions, foresee potential problems, and schedule contractors. Expect fees around $50 to $150 per hour, or 5% to 15% of the total cost of the project.

#2 Get Real About Appliances

It’s easy to get carried away when planning your new kitchen. A six-burner commercial-grade range and luxury-brand refrigerator may make eye-catching centerpieces, but they may not fit your cooking needs or lifestyle.

Appliances are essentially tools used to cook and store food. Your kitchen remodel shouldn’t be about the tools, but the design and functionality of the entire kitchen.

So unless you’re an exceptional cook who cooks a lot, concentrate your dollars on long-term features that add value, such as cabinets and flooring.

Then choose appliances made by trusted brands that have high marks in online reviews and Consumer Reports.

#3 Keep the Same Footprint
Nothing will drive up the cost of a remodel faster than changing the location of plumbing pipes and electrical outlets, and knocking down walls. This is usually where unforeseen problems occur.

So if possible, keep appliances, water fixtures, and walls in the same location. Not only will you save on demolition and reconstruction costs, you’ll cut the amount of dust and debris your project generates.

#4 Don’t Underestimate the Power of Lighting

Lighting can make a world of difference in a kitchen. It can make it look larger and brighter. And it will help you work safely and efficiently. You should have two different types of lighting in your kitchen:

Task Lighting: Under-cabinet lighting should be on your must-do list, since cabinets create such dark work areas. And since you’re remodeling, there won’t be a better time to hard-wire your lights. Plan for at least two fixtures per task area to eliminate shadows. Pendant lights are good for islands and other counters without low cabinets. Recessed lights and track lights work well over sinks and general prep areas with no cabinets overhead.

Ambient lighting: Flush-mounted ceiling fixtures, wall sconces, and track lights create overall lighting in your kitchen. Include dimmer switches to control intensity and mood.

#5 Be Quality-Conscious

Functionality and durability should be top priorities during kitchen remodeling. Resist low-quality bargains and choose products that combine low maintenance with long warranty periods. Solid-surface countertops, for instance, may cost a little more, but with the proper care, they’ll look great for a long time.

And if you’re planning on moving soon, products with substantial warranties are a selling advantage.

#6 Add Storage, Not Space

Storage will never go out of style, but if you’re sticking with the same footprint, here are a couple of ideas to add more:

Install cabinets that reach the ceiling: They may cost more — and you might need a stepladder — but you’ll gain valuable storage space for Christmas platters and other once-a-year items. In addition, you won’t have to dust cabinet tops.

Hang it up: Mount small shelving units on unused wall areas and inside cabinet doors; hang stock pots and large skillets on a ceiling-mounted rack; and add hooks to the backs of closet doors for aprons, brooms, and mops.

#7 Communicate Clearly With Your Remodelers
Establishing a good rapport with your project manager or construction team is essential for staying on budget. To keep the sweetness in your project:

Drop by the project during work hours: Your presence broadcasts your commitment to quality.

Establish a communication routine: Hang a message board on site where you and the project manager can leave daily communiqués. Give your email address and cell phone number to subs and team leaders.

Set house rules: Be clear about smoking, boom box noise levels, available bathrooms, and appropriate parking.

Be kind: Offer refreshments (a little hospitality can go a long way), give praise when warranted, and resist pestering them with conversation, jokes, and questions when they are working. They’ll work better when refreshed and allowed to concentrate on work.

And a final tip to help keep your frustration level down while the construction is going on: plan for a temporary kitchen along with the plans for your new kitchen. You’ll be happier (and less frustrated) if you’ve got a way to have dinner while construction is ongoing.

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

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Protect your Home From Severe Weather

Brown lawns. Flooded basements. Piles of snow dumped on your doorstep. Topsy-turvy weather can test your patience, and even put your home at risk.

If a freak storm drops in your area, will your home be up to the challenge? Consider this:

The median age for U.S. homes is 37 years — getting up there when it comes to handling severe storms.

But a few value-adding improvements provide some peace of mind. Here are five home improvements to consider to protect your investment:

#1 Get a Cool Roof
It can make your home more comfortable when the temperatures spike — and reduce your cooling costs. A traditional dark-colored roof can heat up to almost 190 degrees, creating sweltering indoor conditions. A lighter-colored cool roof stays 50 to 100 degrees cooler since it reflects sunlight instead of absorbing heat. As a bonus, keeping your roof cooler can extend its life.

There are a ton of roofing materials. Among the options:

– Cool roof coating. It’s like a very thick white paint that can be applied to different roof types. Coatings can offer additional perks such as water and chemical protection.
– Cool-colored roofing tiles. They look like traditional tiles but have a higher solar reflectance. Tiles like these also come in a wide range of shades. Keep in mind darker colors like black will be less reflective than a lighter shade like terra cotta.

Tip: If you have a flat or shallow-pit roof, a green roof could be an option. They reduce storm water runoff because the plants absorb the water that would otherwise flow into the gutter.

#2 Install a Standby Generator

You’ll have electricity to run essential appliances and your central air system. A standby generator can even reduce your chances of flood damage by keeping your sump pump running.

It’s permanently installed outside your home and fueled by liquid propane or natural gas. Since it’s wired directly into your home’s electrical system, it can automatically restore power in seconds. Price depends on the size of your home and the amount of wattage needed.

Tip: If the ticket price is too high, you can opt for a portable generator. They’re fueled by gasoline or propane, and are powerful enough to keep a few appliances and some lights running. Prices range from a few hundred dollars to a couple thousand dollars. “Consumer Reports” publishes a generator-buying guide with product reviews.

#3 Hurricane-Proof Your Home

Powerful windstorms and hurricanes can cause weak places in your home to fail. Hurricanes are responsible for eight out of the 10 most expensive natural disasters to have hit the U.S. High winds (and water) can wreck your stuff and, at worst, rip the roof off your house.

Even if you don’t live in a hurricane-prone area, making your home impact resistant can protect against tornadoes and other high-wind storms. Here are ways you can windproof:

1. Add truss bracing to homes with gabled roofs, which are more prone to hurricane wind damage. The bracing uses wood beams to attach the rafters at the ends of gable roofs to boost stability.

2. Install impact-resistant windows, doors, and garage doors. These can inhibit high winds that cause structural damage from entering your home. Impact-resistant features like these come with additional perks. They can:

– Protect your home from intruders
– Reduce outside noise
– Stop warm or cool air from escaping
– Entitle homeowners to a discount on home insurance

If you’re considering shutters, keep in mind, they may not be the best long term investment:

-They’re not convenient. You have to put up the shutters and brace your garage door whenever a storm is coming, and that can be potentially dangerous. Most homeowners don’t have the tools, time, or experience to properly install them.
– They may not resist high wind pressures as effectively during Category 4 or 5 hurricanes. This is especially true for older, less wind-resistant homes, and if your garage door is made of wood.
– New windows and garage doors, in general, have more value when it’s time to sell.

Tip: Hurricane-proofing your yard can also protect your home. Proper tree maintenance can prevent diseased or weakened branches from falling and damaging property. In addition, remove anything in your yard that’s not secured in place — wind chimes, outdoor furniture, garbage cans, garden equipment, and toys — which can become projectiles.

#4 Landscape With Fire-Wise Plants

Drought not only makes lawns look scruffy, it also creates ideal burning conditions for wildfires, especially in Western states.

Incorporate fire-wise landscaping to put a damper on kindling by limiting the amount of flammable vegetation and materials around your home.

The right materials can act as fuel breaks. Here are just a few:

– Replace mulch with pebbles or gravel.
– Replace a wood deck with a concrete patio.
– Add pavers and rocks.
– Avoid fire-prone plants that have volatile oils that burn easily. One way to identify plants in the pyrophytic family: Crush their leaves to see if they produce a strong smell. Examples include: sagebrush, rosemary, and pine trees.
– Plant high-moisture annuals and perennials native to your area. You can find lists of plants appropriate for your area at firewise.org.

Tip: Wire mesh offers some protection by reducing the risk of nearby embers entering or hitting vulnerable parts of your home. You can use wire mesh to:
– Cover soffit, attic, and under-eave vents
– Cover openings in areas below patios, desks, and porches to prevent the collection of combustible materials like dried leaves and other flammable debris

#5 Retrofit for Flooding
The best way to physically protect your property from flooding is with a flooding retrofit. FEMA and the National Flood Insurance Program have strict guidelines on what would work (and they aren’t cheap). Here are a few:
– Elevate your home so that the lowest floor is at or above flood level.
– Dry flood-proof your home so it can withstand floodwaters for at least 72 hours. This involves making the portion of a home that’s below flood level watertight using materials like concrete.
– Wet flood-proof your house, which involves making changes that will allow floodwater inside a home’s structure to minimize damage.

Finally, remember that regular preventive maintenance is the cornerstone of home protection. So if you’re not cleaning your gutters or sealing your home against water and air leaks, add-ons won’t make much difference.

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

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From Fixer-Upper to Dream Home

That moment when you realize the home you want to buy is not the home you can afford: What do you do?

Eve and Jason Trombley didn’t give up. Nor did they wait until they could save up for their dream home. They were ready to buy, so they did. Even though it wasn’t what they first imagined.

Then bit by bit, they turned it into their dream home.

Here’s their story:

Homeowners: Eve Trombley, 40, and husband Jason Trombley, 39
Their home is in: Schaghticoke, N.Y.

Type of home they wanted to buy: Custom built, down to every detail

What they bought instead: A 1977 ranch fixer-upper

Sale price: $167,000

Why did you choose this house after giving up on custom building?
Eve: The location. It’s in the country, close to our jobs, family, friends, and in a good school district. It was also reasonably priced and had the potential for a facelift without being overwhelming.

The bones were good. It didn’t have expensive, pressing issues. We weren’t going to have to jack the foundation up or reinstall a furnace and heating system.

What did you want to change about it?
Eve: The exterior needed a paint job, the fence and landscaping were kind of a hot mess, and we ended up having to replace the well pump within the first year of living here.

We were planning more to improve the floors, gut the bathroom, replace light fixtures, that type of stuff. We really hadn’t intended to touch much in the layout other than finishing the basement and adding a bathroom.

But the longer we lived in it, the more possibilities I saw in it. I really need to live with something and think about flow as well as symmetry before settling on the best options.

And that led to bigger changes?
Eve: Oh yes. After we had lived here three years, I figured out the kitchen and dining area could work better, so we completely redid the space. The two spaces were open to each other, and the fridge was encroaching on the dining area.

So we closed a hallway off the kitchen with a wall, and put the fridge there.

It kept the kitchen from being the thoroughfare for the hallway, and in a way it created more floor space. Then we built a doorway between the dining area and kitchen that made each space more defined, but kept the floor plan open.

We also put a doorway between the kitchen and the living room that mirrored the one between the dining room and living room. It made the three spaces flow together much better.

What’s still on the to-do list?

Eve: We are planning to build a 16-foot-by-24-foot deck off the back of the house so we can have both an eating area and a sitting area. I want to put board and batten with wallpaper in our hallways soon-ish.

We’re going to add a bedroom for my son in the basement, a formal office/studio space for me, and add a toilet and sink down there. And our bathroom is a mess; it needs a new tub, sink, and toilet.

Yowza. Will you ever be finished?
Eve: I have some more big updates in mind. I’d say in about three years we should be mostly settled with what we want to do — if we stick with the existing footprint and don’t add on to the house.

Of all your projects, which has had the biggest impact on your life?
Eve: Definitely the reworking of the kitchen/dining room/living room layout. We used to only seat four people in the dining area; now we can seat six comfortably and up to 10 for holiday dinners.

We can talk to guests in the living room now while we’re in the kitchen, so the space is better for entertaining.

How much have you spent on renovations? Ballpark estimate is fine.

Eve: Around $20,000. That tally is 99% just materials. Everything has been DIY. Jason works in construction, so we’ve done most of the work. And he has a network of handy friends to help him with different projects.

Wow, having a husband who’s a carpenter with generous friends is handy. How much do you think you saved on labor?

I would say we probably saved at least $10,000 to $20,000, but I’m not super well-versed in labor costs.

What do you think your house is worth after all your work?
Eve: We would probably be able to sell it for about $190,000. Things like the pool have been expensive and can go either way with resale. But we weren’t concerned about recouping the cost if we ever sell; it’s been worth it because we use it so much.

What’s the hardest part of a home renovation?
Eve: The middle of a project can feel monotonous and never-ending. There’s often a point where you think, “What did I do? I should have left this alone!”

You may need to step away for a week or two so you can recharge and come back with new motivation and fresh eyes. It’s all normal.

What advice would you give to someone tackling their first home renovation?

Eve: I would say not to bite off more than you can chew. Look at your obligations to figure out how much work you can put into a house. If you can only work on the house on weekends, it might be better to go with something that is livable and doesn’t need to be torn down to the studs.

Also, make a list of all the things that need to be done, per room. And expect to spend more money than you planned. And more time.

Has it been worth all the work?
Eve: Yes, it has, and here’s when I knew that. The original owner of the house stopped by. She brought photos of what the house looked like when she owned it. We could see there had once been an enclosed porch off the dining room, like we’re planning to add!

It made me feel even more connected to the house. Maybe we were meant to buy it.

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

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