Category Archives: Home Improvement

Some Mistakes That Cost Homeowners BIG Money During Cold Weather

Wintry weather is great at turning up problems you didn’t even know you had. Like that first snowy night in front of your fireplace that you thought was pure bliss — until you noticed a leak in the ceiling corner, which apparently was caused by a lack of insulation. How were you supposed to know that?

Many homeowners don’t realize they’re making critical missteps that can cost a ton when winter sets in. Here are seven wintertime mistakes homeowners often make (and what they could cost you!):

1. Not Buying a $2 Protector for Your Outdoor Faucet
What It’ll Cost You: Up to $15,000 and a whole lot of grief

It’s amazing what a little frozen water can do damage-wise. An inch of water in your basement can cost up to $15,000 to pump out and dry out. And, yet, it’s so easy to prevent, especially with outdoor faucets, which are the most susceptible to freezing temps.

The simplest thing to do is to remove your garden hose from your outdoor faucet and drain it. Then add a faucet protector to keep cold air from getting into your pipes. They’re really cheap (some are under $2; the more expensive ones are still less than $10). “Get these now,” says Danny Lipford, home improvement expert and host of the “Today’s Homeowner” television and radio shows. “When the weatherman says we’ve got cold coming, they’ll sell out in minutes.”

While you’re at it, make sure any exposed pipes in an unheated basement or garage are insulated, too, or you’ll face the same pricey problem.

Wrap pipes with foam plumbing insulation — before the weather drops. It’s cheap, too, just like the faucet cover (only $1 for six feet of polyethylene insulation). And it’s an easy DIY project, as long as you can reach the pipes.

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2. Instagramming Your Icicles Instead of Preventing Them
What It’ll Cost You: $500 — if you’re lucky; a lot more if you’re not

Those icicles make your home look so picturesque, you just gotta take a few pics. But you better make them quick. Those icicles can literally be a dam problem. (Yes, dam — not the curse word that sounds the same. )

Icicles are a clear sign that you’ve got an ice dam, which is exactly what it sounds like: a buildup of ice on your gutter or roof that prevents melting snow and ice from flowing through your gutters. That’s really bad news because these icy blocks can lead to expensive roofing repairs.

Depending on where you live, expect to pay at least $500 for each ice dam to be steamed off. Leave the ice and you risk long-term damage, which could ultimately cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars to your roof, depending on what type of shingles you have and the size of the damaged area.

How to prevent them? Insulation. “Ice dams, icicles, and ice buildup on the gutters is a symptom of not enough insulation in the attic,” says Chris Johnson, owner of Navarre True Value and several other stores in the Twin Cities area.

And “you need to have at least 14 inches of insulation in your attic, no matter where you live,” says Lipford. If you live in a colder climate, you’ll need more.

If you don’t have the cash to insulate, heated gutter cables, which run between $50 and $150 each, can be a less expensive alternative when temporarily affixed to areas prone to ice damming, Johnson suggests.

3. Going Lazy on Your Gutters
What It’ll Cost You: You really don’t want to be in a position to find out

It can be so tempting to skip gutter cleanups as winter nears. It seems like as soon as you clear your gutters, they clog right back up again. So what’s the point?

Well, if it looks like you’re living inside a waterfall when it rains, water is missing your gutter system completely. It’s being directed to your foundation instead. And a water-damaged foundation is never, ever cheap to fix.

A contractor can plug foundation cracks for $1,500 to $3,000, says David Verbofsky, director of training for exterior home products manufacturer Ply Gem. But a worse problem, one that requires a foundation excavation or rebuild, can set you back (gulp) $30,000 or more.

Suddenly, cleaning your gutters a few times each fall doesn’t seem so bad. A pro can do the work for anywhere between $70 and $250, depending on the size of your gutter system.

4. Giving Cold Air a Chance to Sneak In
What It’ll Cost You: Nights where you never feel warm, despite sky-high heating bills

“If it were possible to take every crack on the outside of a typical home and drag them together, you’d have the equivalent of a three-by-three window open all the time,” says Lipford. Yikes.

Yet cracks can be easily and inexpensively sealed with a simple tube of caulk, and it’s available in hundreds of colors to match your window panes, outside siding, and even brick. Not sure where to caulk? Look for visible cracks around:

Window sills
Baseboards
Fireplace or dryer vents
Anywhere something inside pokes a hole to the outside
5. Not Getting Personal with Your Thermostat
What It’ll Cost You: Money you could spend on something else besides heating

We all know we should, but we seem to have some mental block when it comes to programming our thermostats to align with our schedules. It’s not that hard, and sometimes all it takes is buying a new one that suits you. (Like maybe a Wi-Fi one that’ll give you a little money-saving thrill each time you swipe your app.)

“From a cost-savings perspective, a programmable thermostat is a great investment,” Lipford says — as much as 10% off your energy bill, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Related: Get tips on choosing and programming a thermostat

6. Skipping Furnace Tune-Ups
What It’ll Cost You: A furnace that’ll die years before it should — and higher energy bills

“Forget to service your furnace and you could easily cut five years off the life of your system,” says Lipford, who added that five years is a full third of the typical unit’s life span. New units can cost around $4,000 installed, making the $125 annual maintenance charge a no-brainer.

While you’re at it, don’t forget to replace the furnace filter, which cleans the air in your home, and also keeps your furnace coils cleaner, which can shave up to 15% off your energy bill. Johnson suggests at least every three months, but possibly as often as monthly if you have allergies, pets, or smoke cigarettes at home.

7. Foregoing a Fireplace Inspection
What It’ll Cost You: Possibly your life — and your home

“A cozy fire is great, but if you don’t maintain your chimney, a fire can cost you thousands of dollars,” says Johnson, not to mention the risk to you and your family.

Schedule your maintenance appointment as early as you can.”If you wait until the busy season, you’ll have a hard time getting them out there, you’ll pay more, and you’ll get a lower quality job,” says Lipford.

Tips to Prevent Freezing Pipes

Wicked winter weather can cause plumbing pipes to freeze and possibly burst, causing flooding and costly water damage to your home. Taking preventive measures before winter sets in can reduce and eliminate the risk of frozen pipes and other cold-weather threats.

Where the Trouble Lies
“Some pipes are more prone to freezing than others because of their location in the home,” explains Paul Abrams, spokesman for Roto-Rooter.

Pipes most at risk for freezing include:

Exposed pipes in unheated areas of the home.
Pipes located in exterior walls.
Any plumbing on the exterior of the home.
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Preventative Measures for Outside
A frozen garden hose can cause more damage than a busted hose; it can actually burst an interior pipe. When the water in the hose freezes, it expands, increasing pressure throughout the whole plumbing system. As part of your regular seasonal maintenance, garden hoses should be disconnected, drained, and stored before the first hard freeze.

If you don’t have frost-proof spigots, close the interior shut-off valve leading to that faucet, open and drain the spigot, and install a faucet insulator. They cost only a couple bucks and are worth every penny. Don’t forget, outdoor kitchens need winterizing, too, to prevent damage.

Exposed Interior Plumbing
Exposed pipes in the basement are rarely in danger of freezing because they are in a heated portion of the home. But plumbing pipes in an unheated area, such as an attic, crawl space, and garage, are at risk of freezing.

Often, inexpensive foam pipe insulation is enough for moderately cold climates. For severe climes, opt for wrapping problem pipes with thermostatically controlled heat tape (from $50 to $200, depending on length), which will turn on at certain minimum temps.

Under-Insulated Walls
If pipes traveling in exterior walls have frozen in the past (tell-tale signs include water damage, mold, and moisture build-up), it’s probably because of inadequate or improperly installed insulation. It might well be worth the couple hundred dollars it costs to open up the wall and beef up the insulation.

“When nothing else works, say for a northern wall in a really cold climate, the last resort is to reroute a pipe,” notes Abrams. Depending on how far the pipe needs to be moved — and how much damage is caused in the process — this preventative measure costs anywhere from $700 on up. Of course, putting the room back together is extra.

Heading South for the Winter?
For folks leaving their houses for an extended period of time in winter, additional preventative measures must be taken to adequately protect the home from frozen pipes.

Make sure the furnace is set no lower than 55 degrees.
Shut off the main water supply and drain the system by opening all faucets and flushing the toilets.
In extreme situations (vacation home in a bitterly cold climate), Abrams recommends having a plumber come to inspect the system, drain the hot water heater, and perhaps replace the water in traps and drains with nontoxic antifreeze.

Tips to Fool Yourself Into Thinking It’s Spring Inside

Winter is coming, and there’s nothing any of us can do about it. If only frigid temperatures brought as much joy as summer sun, a new season of “Game of Thrones,” or heck, even the sandwich you just scarfed down between meetings at work. Unfortunately, the season of oversized parkas and “wintry mix” (meteorologist speak for “cold, wet, sky garbage”) is upon us.

But you don’t have to sacrifice the spirit of springtime just because you spotted a snowflake. Some people say denial is a bad thing; we say it’s a survival technique. Keep your home in a cheerful, spring-like stasis all season long by following these simple tips.

Buy (or Build!) a Window Box
Grow your favorite herbs year-round inside. Mint, rosemary, and thyme thrive with a sunny window during the chilly winter months. And they smell nice, too, making your air as clean as a spring breeze.

Also add easy-to-care-for plants, like the golden pathos vine or the peace lily, to remove harmful contaminants from the air — giving you a literal breath of fresh air when you’re cooped up all winter.

Related: The Most Popular Mood-Lifting Houseplants

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Give Your Nose a Spring-y Treat
Speaking of nice smells, you can trick your brain into believing it’s spring with scent. And all you need for an olfactory refresh is a stove, a pot, and 10 minutes at the grocery store — no need for room deodorizers packed with VOCs (volatile organic compounds, which can damage your organs and harm the environment. Ugh, no thanks.). Boil sliced lemon, thyme, and a spoonful of vanilla to make your nostrils swoon.

Or, supercharge your home with spring-like scents every time you clean. Soak cotton balls in your favorite essential oil (try citrus, jasmine, or lavender). Place them in your vacuum bag before you clean to keep the entire space smelling fresh.

Revisit Your Childhood With a Swing
Nothing says spring like reading a book in your favorite hammock. Make the child in you downright giddy by hanging an indoor hammock (or even a swing!) by your biggest, brightest window.

All you’ll need for the world’s coolest indoor swing is a drill, heavy-duty screws, some nylon, a plank of wood, and a few basic Boy Scout knots. One caveat: Make sure to hang the swing by a sturdy ceiling beam (or screw your hammock anchors into the studs). Otherwise your playful plans might leave you with a bump on the rear.

Lighten Up Your Indoor Lighting
If winter’s wimpy rays leave you feeling sad (or worse, afflicted by seasonal affective disorder), now’s the time to lighten up.

The simplest — and cheapest — solution is to clean
DIY Tip
Your bulbs should have a Kelvin rating of 2700 for a soft, warm light that will also give off a bit of heat to warm your room. — Designer Hollie Blakeney
your bulbs. Yep, dirty bulbs not only make your home look dingy, they waste energy, too.

You could go all out and hire a pro (for about $1,500 to $5,000) to retrofit your lighting to boost the mood in each room. You pay that much for a vacation, why not make your home feel like a vacay spot?

Or split the difference and invest in uplights, says Boston interior designer Heidi Pribell. Uplights are tiny (think coffee-can size) and inexpensive compared with traditional lamps — and have the advantage of sending light up to reflect off the ceiling.

“Lights directly focused on the ceiling will spread and make the room brighter,” she says. “A lamp pushes light down, which doesn’t feel nearly as wonderful as the light projected up.”

Leeeeeeet the Natural Light In
Take advantage of every second of sunshine by installing a skylight.

“I have a humongous skylight in my office,” Pribell says. “That natural light coming from above makes working all winter long fantastic.”

Is installation too costly? (It can run as high as $3,000.) Consider a solar tube system, a cheaper alternative that uses reflective tubes to create a patch of sunlight in your ceiling. Even better: Unlike a skylight, they don’t require reframing your attic, which cuts installation costs by half or more.

Ditch Drab Walls
This winter, stop staring dreamily at the paint samples at your local big box store, and do something about your bland, beige walls. Pick a fiery orange or a spunky yellow, or choose a playful wallpaper to bring your space some out-of-season cheer.

“Pattern and color are a great way to counterbalance any somber mood,” says Pribell. “People are timid about that sort of thing, but it does make a big difference.”

No need to slather color over an entire room — even one overhauled accent wall can be enough to uplift your mood.

Do a Ceiling Fan Check
Ceiling fans are made for warm and cold weather — as long as you use them correctly. Once winter hits, make sure the blades are going clockwise to keep your home warm and cozy.

Because heat rises, precious warm air hovers around the ceiling during wintertime. Reversing your fan’s direction sucks cold air upward and pushes warmer air to the floor. Winter chill? What winter chill?

Unleash the Sun’s Heat During the Day
No, your precious heat won’t escape through the windows if you keep your blinds open. With sunlight at a premium, soak up every second by opening your shades on bright days.

“Follow the lead of the Scandinavians and avoid heavy window coverings that block natural light,” interior designer Hollie Blakeney says. “Let in all the light that you can with sheers or no drapes at all.”

And on those rare sunny, sorta-warm days, go ahead and open the windows for a bit “to rid your home of stale winter air,” she says.

Put Your Winter Gear Out of Sight
Thanks, winter. Cold weather means boots, mittens, and heavy coats — not to mention the dour wintry mood that makes cleaning seem impossible. But interiors are more cheerful when they’re decluttered, no matter how annoying organizing all of your woolen accessories might seem. A cluttered living space feels cramped and uncomfortable, especially when you’re trapped inside for the season.

“Keep winter items out of sight through the use of closets, shoe racks, and drawers,” Blakeney says. After all, if you can’t see your parka, it isn’t winter… right?

Some Things You Need to Know About House Fires

When house fires break out, every second counts. Blazes progress quickly, and temperatures can soar to 900 degrees Celsius in about three minutes. To protect yourself and your loved ones, have a house fire plan in place before disaster strikes.
1. Early detection of a house fire is essential.

Prevention is the first and most effective step in managing house fires: be sure to install working smoke detectors on every floor and carbon monoxide alarms outside sleeping areas, and test them monthly. “Change the batteries annually,” says Stephen Welowszky, division chief of public education with Toronto Fire Services. Family members of seniors should take extra precautions, he notes. Consider devices specifically designed for hearing-impaired individuals that emit a strobe light, as well as pager-like options that vibrate if the alarm sounds while you’re asleep.

2. Be cautious in the kitchen.

In the period between 2009 and 2013, cooking caused an average of 1,357 fires
 a year in Ontario alone, according to the province’s Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management. In the case of a grease fire, don’t put water on the flames—this will cause them to flare up violently, warns Welowszky. Turn off the heat and smother the blaze with another pan, if possible.

3. Learn your fire extinguisher ABCs.

Fire extinguishers come in different types, indicated on their tags: A, B, C, or ABC. Type A is for combustible materials like paper and cardboard; type B is for flammable liquids, such as cooking oil; and type C is for electrical and appliance fires. Welowszky says type ABC is best for households.

4. Make a house fire escape plan.

Know two ways out of every room and off of each floor (windows count), and rehearse this fire drill regularly with all members of your household.

Decorating Mistakes Yu Should Avoid

1. Your Wall Art Looks Disorganized

Decorating your home with artwork can be difficult. Marissa Sauer, interior designer and founder of Design MACS, recommends that each piece of artwork connect spatially to something else in the room. So, if you have a five-foot sofa, choose a four-foot painting.

“It’s important to pick pieces that are to scale with the wall that you’re putting them on. A piece that is too small could look a bit random, and a piece that’s too big can make the room look small and cluttered,” she says. “The art has got to connect to something.”

2. You Decorated Your Home with High-Maintenance Furniture

Steer clear of high-maintenance furniture if cleaning every surface in your home is the last thing on your list of chores. Dust will be more noticeable on dark-stained woods and fingerprints will show up quicker on mirrors and glass. If you want your home to look less messy, be mindful of furniture that gets dirtier faster, and clean them first.

3. Your Walls Look Dated

With current colour trends leaning toward lighter and airier looks, duller colours with brown undertones could make your home seem dated and dirty. “It’s not that they’re bad,” says Sauer. “It just feels a bit dated, and people often connect things that are older with things that are messier.”

4. Your Picture Frames Aren’t Arranged Properly

If you want to organize multiple pieces of art, roll a large sheet of paper to the size of the space you’d like to fill. Place the sheet on the floor and shift around your picture frames until you finds a setup you like. Traces each frame and mark where each nail needs to go to hang them. Finally, tape the paper to the wall, put all the nails in where the dots are, and tear the paper down.

5. You Have Exposed Cords Everywhere

Nothing says clutter — and danger — like a bunch of exposed cords and power strips around your home. Identify each room’s problem spots and look into creative ways to conceal. For example, your computer’s power strip can be hung in a basket underneath the desk.

6. You Over-Decorated

When organizing objects on tables and shelves, keep everything in groups of three, five or seven. Also make sure there’s a clear focal point and lots of white space, advises Sauer. To keep things interesting, put objects of different heights together, and if you have a square table, position them on a 45-degree angle.