Recent events have made the spaces in our homes more important than ever—to our productivity, well-being, health and comfort. As we head into a new future, how can we make sure that our homes serve us better?
While homes have always been central in our lives, they have never had to shoulder as much of a load as they have this past year. Since the stay-at-home orders, our homes have had to provide us with everything we need, much of which they were not designed for—from office spaces to classrooms, gyms and sanctuaries.
Our relationships to our home environments have changed, and the psychological impact of being at home, becoming familiar with the new demands on our spaces, and being confronted with all of our “stuff” is not a minor thing.
The effects of this reassessment of our home spaces on our behaviors have been numerous: from making small changes, like seeking to repurpose the spaces in our homes for more practical use (work, recreation, quiet time), or removing various unneeded furniture or objects from our homes, to larger decisions like moving to a house that is more suitable for our own personal indoor-centric lifestyles.
Now, the number of vaccinated Americans is increasing, and a pinprick of light is growing stronger at the end of the COVID tunnel. Does this mean that we will return to pre-pandemic behaviors and forget the adjustments that we’ve made in our homes?
Sally Augustin, an environmental and design psychologist, uses the practice of science to inform design projects in both commercial and residential spaces. She believes that, while we will be glad to be out of our homes again when things become slightly more relaxed, we will also use what we’ve learned from the recent past to inform how our spaces should work for us moving forward.
“We’re a social species, so we like to mix with others,” Augustin says. “We’ll go back to work; we’ll start to see our families again. We’re all pretty sick of our own cooking and all the things we can get delivered, so we’ll go out to eat again. I think people will resume, to a large extent, their previous lives, but they won’t forget their current experiences.”
So, what does that mean for how we design and live within our existing homes, and what we should look for in future property purchases?
For those who are working within the confines of the spaces that they already have, there are small changes that can be made that will make a significant impact on quality of life at home.
Augustin is quick to list a few things that can make a big difference—noting that they’re not new design elements born out of the pandemic, but rather things that have always helped us to create healthy and happy living spaces, and that can be implemented to great effect in these changing times.
“For most of us, happily, all of our sensory systems are working at same time,” Augustin says. “Always think about the full range of sensory experiences you’ll have in a space.”
To create a more relaxed environment, Augustin recommends playing nature soundtracks at a very low volume in your office or living room. And she says that smell—yes, smell—can also play an important part in how comfortable you feel at home.
“There’s been a lot of rigorous research done on smell and how it affects what goes on in people’s heads,” she says. “You might consider making your home office smell like lemon, which has been linked to cognitive performance. Throughout the home, you might want a lavender scent, because the research shows that the smell of lavender is relaxing.”
Most of us default to sight as the primary sense when we evaluate a space for suitability, and there is plenty you can do to improve the visual impact of your home environment.
“Seeing wood grain is great at alleviating our stress—whether it’s on floors or other surfaces in our homes,” Augustin says. “Relatively light and unsaturated colors (which have always been good for use in a home) are still good. And natural light is like magic for us as humans. Being in natural light improves our cognitive performance—even our creative thinking. Plants were great inside before, and they’re great inside now, in terms of helping us refresh mentally and feel calmer.”
On top of color and light, Augustin notes that the way that we allow our belongings to dominate a space can have a big effect on our mindset.
“It’s really important to think about visual clutter in a space,” she says. “I think sometimes people let that get on top of them. I’m not talking about creating a place that’s stark—being in white box without much going on visually stresses us out—but you’re really looking for a middle ground.
“You want to think through the palette of colors that are in a space, make sure it’s well-managed, have only a couple of patterns in a space, have some personalizing objects on tabletops or hanging on walls, like photographs or art, but don’t let things get away from you.”
Rebecca West, interior designer and founder of Seriously Happy Homes, agrees, adding that clutter can take your space away from you.
“People used to have all these spare rooms, like the guest room or the home gym that wasn’t used much,” she says. “Now, that space has become so much more precious. The demands on the space have become a lot more profound, and people are thinking, ‘This is our reality now. How do we make it work?’
“If you’ve got a space that has been storing stuff that you haven’t touched in five or 10 years, you really got to think, ‘Could I use that space better?’” she says. “This is very helpful for people who feel like they don’t have enough house. You’re just seeing it with blinders on, having lived there for so long that you can’t necessarily see any other way of using the space.”
West notes that, until recently, it’s been much easier to ignore the things in our homes that weren’t working.
“I think that a lot of people were able to ignore that psychological baggage in their home, because they always left the house for work, or they could go out with friends,” she says. “[Since the pandemic], they haven’t been able to escape those psychological cues anymore.”
To create a space that best serves your well-being, West recommends taking a look around your home,
and identifying the things that don’t make you feel good.
“You can take action on the stuff that has been nagging at you, but you weren’t really able to put your finger on,” she says. “Figure out what makes you happy and showcase it, because half the time we hide the stuff we love in a box in the garage. Get rid of the stuff that seems like it should be functional—maybe it was expensive, maybe you have guilt because it was given to you as a gift—but doesn’t make you happy. Who are you serving by holding on to all that?”
Once you have assessed the elements you can bring into your home for well-being, as well as those you should get rid of, the job is not done—you still need to keep on top of what’s coming into the house, and make sure you keep shifting things out, West says.
“A house is never done, because the people in it are always changing, and there’s always stuff flowing in—whether that’s junk mail or groceries or Amazon purchases,” she says. “If we don’t think about the house as this living, breathing organism—where things are breathed in, so they must be breathed out—then we either end up with a totally stale house, or we end up with too much stuff.”
THE BIGGER PICTURE
While there are several things that you can do to improve your space that don’t require remodeling or moving house, sometimes taking a big step and making those larger changes is necessary.
Both West and Augustin note the need, during times when we’re spending more time indoors in close proximity to others, for spaces that can be closed off for work or quiet, but that won’t make residents feel closed-in.
“There’s this competing priority of, ‘I need a door to close so that I can take whatever meeting, or find a mental quiet space,’” West says, “but also, ‘I don’t want to feel super isolated, or trapped in a lot of tiny, small spaces.’”
She says that we can have both space and sanctuary, through having large rooms that can be segmented if necessary—using things like barn doors, sliding doors and room dividers.
“A lot of people will have memories of this event that will guide their future actions. The next time they’re looking to buy a house, they’ll make sure it has some space where they can work effectively from home. People will perhaps be looking for spaces with a little more internal segmentation from one space to another, because they’ll remember how nice it was to be able to isolate a bit when they were confined to their home with all the members of their family for weeks on end.”
Aside from the practicalities of working and schooling from home, we should also look for spaces that prioritize our mental and physical health, West says.
“I certainly think that people will be looking beyond the footprint of their home. Walkable neighborhoods and outdoor spaces are more important than they were pre-pandemic. It’s about the home, but it’s also about what’s outside your home. Do you have an outside gazebo or some outdoor space where you could have friends over if you’re worried about social distancing?”
West also recommends thinking about the multigenerational living that many of us are now doing, and making sure that there are spaces that are useful to the different members of the household—things like study spaces for children, workout rooms for active people, hangout areas for the family, and comfortable quarters for elderly relatives.
“Then there’s privacy,” she says. “What do the windows look out onto? Are they looking into your neighbor’s home? Will that make you feel more trapped? And what kind of light are you going to be getting throughout the day, especially during the hours you want to be more alert or more rested?
“As you’re looking at a new house and trying to imagine your furniture in the space, really go through the exercise of thinking, ‘Where would I sit in this room? How would it feel for me to sit in this room while spending 12 hours working in this space?’”
For Augustin, the senses are again an important consideration when evaluating a home for suitability.
“When you first see a home that you might buy, often you’re looking at like an online listing, which is pictures. But make sure you read the words, too, because maybe you’ll find out that the house is next door to a preschool or something. Some people might love the sound of little kids laughing in the morning, but if you’re going to be up all night because you’re an emergency-room physician, maybe you don’t want to live next door to a preschool.
“There was a neighborhood in Chicago that for decades smelled like chocolate because it was right near the Brach’s Candy Factory. It was a perfectly nice neighborhood, but if you didn’t like chocolate or [had dietary health concerns], that probably wasn’t the place for you.
“In general, keep in mind that your house is more than what it looks like.”
Beyond what a house can offer in terms of practical considerations, there’s the need for us to feel… well, at home. In a time when security and safety are top of mind for most people, familiarity can provide comfort. So how can you create that feeling in a brand-new home, which is—at least to begin with—unfamiliar?
Augustin recommends giving thought to what makes your house really feel like home to you. “If you can continue to use the same furniture, or look at the same art, that increases feelings of familiarity and safety,” she says. “Is your furniture or your art going to fit in the new home? If you’re coming from an apartment with lots of solid, interior walls, and you go to a home that’s open plan, with very few interior walls and lots of windows, you’re not going to be able to hang as many paintings. If that art is meaningful to you, a new home where you can’t put it up and see it is not going to be the best place for you to be.
“You have to think through where you were already, your good experiences there, and how many of those you’ll be able to carry through to the new space to make it familiar. If you’re going to make a big change, why? Is it likely that you will be happy after you make it, based on where you’ve been happy previously?”
Home is the most personal space that any of us have, and we need to make decisions according to what feeds our own individual sense of well-being. Identify the things that make you feel comfortable, make your home feel practical, and ensure that it serves you and your family in the best way possible. Then, make the necessary changes, or, if you need to, purchase a house with those things in mind. In a nutshell, create your space intentionally.
Or, as Augustin says, “Just manage things. Be active. Take control. Don’t let your house just happen to you.”
We get it, HGTV has got us all thinking maybe the idea of a fixer-upper might just be something we want to do. If you can handle living through a renovation we are here to show you just what you can do with a fixer-upper of your own. These before and afters might just have you thinking you too should jump on this trend, and build some immediate equity into your new home. Let’s start out simple and move into the slightly more complicated renovations…
Modern Farmhouse Powder Room
Purple people eaters might have lived here before we got started! This space was a slight color shock but nothing that some paint and statement wallpaper cannot fix. We also changed the floor stain throughout the space, swapped the vanity, and installed new lighting and all the fixtures to have another complete transformation.
Modern Neutral Master Bedroom Retreat
The before photo on this one has you feeling like your walking into an early 90s dream bedroom with the custom wallpaper and dark burgundy walls low ceiling fan. For this fixer-upper, we started by swapping out the dated and dirty carpet with new hardwoods. We then removed the wallpaper, primed the walls for paint, and added a neutral color palette with whites, grays, and tans. Instead of a wallpaper accent wall, we added a custom textured wall and installed built-ins and artwork from travel to add a more personal touch. To elongate the room we ran a faux wood beam and brought in a modern ceiling fan to continue to have air circulation without distracting from the overall ascetics of the space.
Modern Farmhouse Entryway/Laundry Room
A green haven was presented to you as you stepped into this entryway/laundry room! We truly believe everyone needs a dumping ground in their home. A place where all of your things can live without feeling as if you made a complete mess of your home. Mudroom built-ins have quickly become one of our absolute favorite solutions to a space that is not being utilized to its fullest potential. Talk about the best way to use every single inch of your space. Many homes have rooms with dual purposes and this one isn’t short on that! The laundry room directly across needed a facelift with storage options and functionality! Adding uppers, creating a custom folding table, and building two side cabinets for storage and sorting completed this space.
Modern Boho Basement Bathroom
This fixer-upper took some dreaming to get to! Can you see it with the before photo? We mapped out the space with tape to help you see what we see. All new everything. For this space, we created a bathroom where one never existed, leaving a ton of space for relaxation and play for both kids and adults. Knowing we were working in a basement lead us to a light and airy palette.
Attic to Master Suite Retreat
Taking an attic space from a bedroom to a master suite involved many rounds of edits to land on the best space planning option without actually tearing the roof off! In this attic, we ripped down all of the walls, then added one new one to create a much-needed master bathroom space. We then extended the floor a foot and a half over the staircase, allowing for more space on both sides of the king bed. All new HVAC, electrical, plumbing, drywall, flooring, paint, railing, and a massive custom built-in wardrobe brought this space from drab to fab!
Open Floor Plan Modern Farmhouse
Let’s walk into your typical 1980s kitchen complete with more golden oak that you know what to do with! We are thinking of an open-concept floorplan with this one. To make these dreams a reality we needed structural support, rounds of design edits and six weeks of in-progress hard work and dedication from our team! But this space couldn’t look more opposite of the one we started with…now we just need to recreate it in our home!
Important things to note about each of the above renovations. We are a design-to-build team which means we come into people’s homes and help to make their dreams a reality! Months and months of planning were involved before we ever started demo on each and every one of these projects. Prior to any renovation begins we have all material, product and design elements sourced, purchased and ready on site. All the little details matter to keep a project moving in a timely fashion! It’s what we do for a living!
If you’re in the market to find your next fixer-upper, check out Homes.com where you can search for homes the simply smarter way!
Michael and Danielle Gutelli
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Danielle and Michael Gutelli creators and owners of Clark + Aldine, a residential design to build team specializing in home design, customization, and styling. Together with their two little dudes, they are helping people experience life by looking at existing space in a completely new way and offering solutions for a more functional and purposeful space for their clients. On their blog they share content related to home design, decor and styling, DIY tips, and how they manage all the things while prioritizing time with their family, traveling and embracing the everyday moments life brings them! Follow their journey at clarkandaldine.com or on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest.
Creating a safe home for the elderly people in your life is crucial. Household places and items that used to pose no problem may now be difficult or, worse, dangerous. These tips will help you ensure that your home is as safe as possible.
1. Fall-proof your home: Falls are the number one cause of injury among the elderly, so preventing falls should be the first priority. Install non-slip strips on floors, steps, and showers or tubs. Arrange your furniture in a way that will open up walkways, and make sure staircases have handrails on both sides.
2. Intercoms and alert systems: Having a medical alert system along and intercoms around the home will ensure a higher degree of safety. Having access to other forms of communication is valuable If there is an emergency and someone can’t get to the phone.
3. Double locked doors: Having doors that lock both from the inside and outside is very smart, especially on bathroom doors. If someone falls while in the bathroom or bedroom, and the door is locked, it can pose a dangerous situation. When you have a door that can be opened from the outside as well other people can come in to help.
4. Well-lit areas: It’s important to keep your home as well-lit as possible. Having light in areas such as staircases, hallways, and on the front porch is essential to safety. Being able to see exactly where you’re walking and what you’re doing can prevent falls and other injuries. Additionally, make sure bedrooms and bathrooms have automatic night lights.
5. Shower chairs: Install shower chairs, bath benches, and grab handles in the bathroom. Unfortunately, bathing increases the risk of slipping and falling but this precaution greatly minimizes the potential for injury.
6. Prevent accidental scalding: People over age 65 are four to five times greater to experience a fatal injury from a burn or scald. Turn back the water heater to 120 degrees F to help ensure that there is no way anyone can get burned.
These small changes can make a big difference in creating a safe and comfortable environment for elders.
It might still be the dog days of summer, but fall will be here before you know it! Seasonal home maintenance is crucial for keeping you safe, dry and comfortable and can prevent the need for unnecessary (and costly!) repairs. With lingering warm temperatures and daylight, the end of summer is the perfect time to prep your home for the cooler, and often more harsh, months to come. Add these six tasks to your end of summer maintenance for a smooth seasonal transition!
Get Pests Under Control
Whether you’re hiring a company to treat your home and yard or doing it yourself, creepy crawlers are one of the top nuisances that come with the summer months. Especially if you live in an area that sees a lot of rain during the summer, you can expect these critters to make themselves welcome in your home, as they look for a dry refuge. Before you hunker down for colder months, here are a few ways to get and keep pests out of your home:
Check weather stripping and seal up entryway cracks
Set out bait or traps
Deep clean indoor and outdoor trash cans that’ve had a full summer to accumulate smelly, pest-attracting residue
Check nooks and crannies in and around the home for any nests or signs of infestations
Finally, if you find signs of infestations from termites, roaches or ants that are beyond the scope of simple traps or bait from the hardware store, don’t wait! You don’t want to give them time to cause any more damage, so call your local pest control company for advice or to schedule an appointment.
Check Your HVAC
To keep this big-ticket item from causing big-ticket problems, a technician should come out once or twice a year to check that your HVAC system is functioning properly. Sure, your AC unit is blowing cold air like a champ, but is there a crack in your furnace that’s developed since you last checked?
Hire a reputable technician to take a look at your unit, measuring its capacity and checking for any leaks. When your unit is running at optimal performance, it’s more energy efficient, can save your overall costs, and protect against dangers like fires or carbon monoxide poisoning. This is also a great time to clean out your vents, which improves the efficiency of your unit and reduces the allergens in the air.
Address Any Yard Drainage Issues
If you’re in an area that receives a lot of rainfall during the summer, this is an especially important part of your end of summer maintenance checklist. Summer storms can cause minor flooding or create cracks in home exteriors over time. If you live in a climate where it snows in the colder months, water seepage into foundation cracks can experience cycles of freezing and thawing; over time, this can cause extensive damage that’s quite costly to repair.
If you’ve noticed any standing water in your yard the past few months, chances are that it will only get worse if left unaddressed. Here are some treatment options:
Clear your gutters and downspouts
Plant a rain garden, or add a catch basin in areas that consistently puddle
Construct a creek bed or insert a French drain to channel water away from any low points in your yard.
If you have a serious issue with drainage seeping into your home or causing foundational issues, call your local landscaper to see if adjusting your property grade is in order.
Check Your Weatherproofing
Summer is notorious for rolling thunderstorms, and depending on where you live, tropical weather systems. End of summer maintenance is a perfect way to check for areas vulnerable to extreme weather before issues like water leaks happen. Focus on these items:
Check the roof for leaks or loose shingles
Inspect the weather stripping around doors and windows
Check your insulation for any areas that could use some some replenishing
If you don’t have one already, consider installing a storm door
Tend to Your Yard and Landscaping
Early fall is a perfect time to plant for spring gardens, making end of summer maintenance a crucial prep step. But even if you don’t care to garden, your yard still needs the occasional maintenance deep dive. To keep your home’s exterior protected and your curb appeal at its best, add these items to your to-dos:
Trim back any large tree branches hanging over your home.
Clean up your landscaping — pull weeds, uproot dead plants, etc.
Aerate and/or fertilize your soil and add new grass seed
Power wash hardscapes like your driveway or walkway
Seasonal maintenance can certainly be a chore, but when done regularly it can save you time, money and stress down the road. For even more fall prep ideas, print out this detailed checklist, and don’t forget to check back for more fall-centric content!
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Homes.com is where you connect with real estate professionals to find your forever home the #simplysmarterway
Question: Could you share a few budget-friendly ideas my clients can use to add value and comfort to their primary bedrooms? John Spadaro, CENTURY 21 Universal Real Estate, Chicago, Illinois
One of the biggest influences on today’s primary bedroom is the boutique hotel suite. I’ve designed many and can tell you that turning your bedroom into a five-star experience is easier than you might think. Here are a few of my favorite tips:
• Unburden walk-in closets with an armoire for “him.” He can place his suits there and keep the two of you from fighting to get dressed every morning.
• Lean a great mirror with a thick frame up against a wall. It can function as a full-length dressing mirror while adding architectural interest to your room. And of course, it visually expands the space as it bounces light from wall to wall.
• Add a beverage station and mini fridge. For a little money, you can get a coffeepot, bottled waters, and even a mini bar. Have that first cup of coffee or last glass of wine in private, away from household commotion.
• Consider replacing worn wall-to-wall carpet with hardwood flooring. It wears better and adds value to your home. Add area rugs for comfort—they’re investments you can take with you, should you sell your home. Remember how wonderful a fuzzy sheepskin or all-natural-fiber shag rug feels on bare toes?
CHRISTOPHER LOWELL, an Emmy Award-winning interior designer and TV host, is known for doable design advice that nets stunning results.
Every homeowner who’s considering hiring a contractor to do some work in or around their house should make sure they’re familiar with their state’s mechanics lien laws before making a decision. Never heard of a mechanics lien? You’re not alone. Let’s uncover what it is and why you should protect yourself from it.
Think Twice About Not Paying
If you wind up having a beef with the contractor you employ for builds or repairs – poor workmanship, perhaps, or maybe they walked off the job before it was completed or failed to finish the work in a timely manner as promised – and you decide not to pay, that contractor can respond by attaching your house to a legal claim for unpaid work until some kind of settlement is reached.
That could turn into a waiting game if you are not considering selling your home. But, if you intend to put your home on the market in the near future, that lien could stop you in your tracks.
What EXACTLY is a Mechanics Lien?
Sometimes known as a materialmans lien, every state has a a mechanics lien law granting tradespeople a way to protect themselves from those who fail to pay them for services and time rendered.
Here’s how Rusty Adams, a research attorney for the Texas Real Estate Research Center at Texas A&M University, described it in a recent edition of Terra Grande, the Center’s monthly magazine:
“It is an equitable interest that gives its holder the right to have satisfaction out of the property to secure payment on a debt. It is not title to the property, and a lien holder does not have ownership rights. Rather, it is an equitable interest that gives the lien holder the right to have satisfaction out of the property to secure the payment of a debt.”
In other words, it is an encumbrance the property owner must deal with, one way or another. Otherwise, it could result in a foreclosure and forced sale of your house.
How Mechanics Liens Work
None of what follows should be considered legal advice. Rather, it is intended only as a brief, mile-high overview.
A mechanics lien can be filed by anyone with a claim against the property. This concept isn’t new; for example, Uncle Sam can place a lien if you fail to pay your taxes, as can your state. Your homeowners association can do the same if you don’t pay your dues or a special assessment.
In the case of work done to your house, the contractor can file if you fail to pay, even if you feel you’re justified in withholding. The company from which he or she gets their supplies – roof shingles, for instance – can also file against your house if the contractor doesn’t pay them. And if the contractor uses subcontractors, they, too, can go against the house if the contractor doesn’t pay them.
The “very broad” law in Maryland “covers almost everything,” attorney Harvey Jacobs says. For example, if the developer doesn’t pay the paving company hired to cover your cul-de-sac, the company can file a mechanics lien against every house that touches that street. Ditto for the outfit hired to landscape, sod and plant shrubs.
How to Protect Against Mechanics Liens
Fortunately, lien laws afford owners some protections. In some places, the amount owed must be of at least a certain amount. They also must be filed within a certain number of days from when the work was completed, and may require the property owner to be notified within a specified time that a lien has been filed.
The rules, which also apply to subs and suppliers, can be somewhat tricky for an owner to decipher. But the absolute best way to protect yourself is to require the contractor to provide lien releases before you pay anything more than your down payment. In other words, no draws or final payment until he or she certifies that everyone in the chain has been paid.
Often, says Texas attorney Adams, a notice of intent to file or the actual filing is enough to resolve the debt attached to the property without going through the process itself.
Once payment has been received, a contractor has a duty to remove the notice or the lien itself from public records. Failure to do so allows the property owner to file a lawsuit against the contractor to compel the lien’s removal. But to avoid that, Adams suggests making sure the release has been recorded.
(READ MORE: The Difference Between a Handyman and a Contractor)
Some Important Distinctions
A lien release is not the same as a lien waiver. Nor is it the same as a lis pendens. While a release removes an existing lien, a waiver is an agreement that prohibits a contractor or supplier from placing a lien on the property. But some states don’t permit waivers at all.
A lis pendens, which is Latin for “suit pending,” is a written notice that a lawsuit has been filed in the county land records office involving either the title to the property or a claimed ownership interest in it. The notice alerts a potential purchaser or lender that the property’s title is in question, making it less attractive, if only because the buyer or lender is subject to the suit’s ultimate outcome.
Beyond this, it is crucial for a homeowner to ensure the contractor, subcontractor or supplier has followed the rules of the road. In Texas, said Adams, the claimant must give the appropriate preliminary notices, make the proper filing and give filing notice to the property owner.
In Maryland, the unpaid amount must be at least 15% of the property’s assessed value. So if the house is assessed at $100,000, the lien must be for $15,000 or more. “Small jobs don’t count,” Jacobs said. Contractors must also file a lien within 180 days of performing the work in Maryland, but subs must file within 120 days.
In neighboring D.C., though, there is no minimum to file, and the contractor, supplier or sub has only 90 days to file.
(Note: In the case of mechanics liens, property value is an evidentiary question. Courts often use assessed value in deciding whether a lien can be brought.)
In Texas, though, contractors aren’t required to provide a preliminary notice, but they are required to present a list of all subs and suppliers before starting work. But subs and suppliers who have a contract with the original contractor must send notices to both the contractor and the homeowner by the 15th day of the second month.
As you can see, once you get into the tall grass with mechanics liens, it becomes fairly complicated. It’s at this point that it may be time to consult legal counsel.
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Syndicated newspaper columnist, Lew Sichelman has been covering the housing market and all it entails for more than 50 years. He is an award-winning journalist who worked at two major Washington, D.C. newspapers and is a past president of the National Association of Real Estate Editors.
Love gardening? Don’t put the shovel and gardening gloves away just yet. You’re in luck because there are beautiful flowers that will bloom in the fall.
1. Turtleheads: These perennial flowers are named for their shape which resembles the head of a snapping turtle. Turtleheads are low maintenance, grow up to three feet tall, and can blossom in blue, pink, or white. Learn more about how to care for turtleheads from Fine Gardening.
2. Aster: Asters are small, daisy like flowers that can grow up to three feet. Some are relatively smaller, only growing four inches. Depending on the kind of aster, they can be blue, red, white, or pink. Almanac has more information on how to properly care and grow asters.
3. Mums: Mums the word! Mums are a classic fall and winter plant that are seen in many gardens. They’re a perfect flower for planting in large batches and can be either perennial or annual. More information on planting mums can be found at HGTV Gardens.
4. Marigolds: Marigolds bloom any time of the year, including the fall. They can grow up to five feet tall and have daisy or carnation-like flower heads. Learn more about the proper care of marigolds from The Flower Expert.
5. Sneezeweed: These strangely named, large yellow flowers bear a striking resemblance to sunflowers. Best grown in moist, rich soil, they can sprout anywhere from three to five feet tall. Learn more about planting sneezeweed from About.com.
These perennials flowers will make your garden look beautiful during any season and they’ll give your garden some color during the fall. Get ready to fall for these gorgeous flowers!
Many plants represent a threat to Fido and Fluffy. Protect them with these tips from our gardening expert.
Gardens are wonderful places for pets. They provide entertainment, room to exercise and cool shade in the afternoon. However, many of the most common and seemingly innocuous garden plants are also poisonous to your furry friends.
The apples and oranges we humans enjoy, almost all flowering bulbs and some of the most popular houseplants all share one thing in common: They are dangerously toxic to cats and dogs.
Plants ranked ninth on the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ (ASPCA’s) list of top pet toxins in 2017. Roughly 5 percent of calls made to the organization’s Animal Poison Control Center involved landscaping plants, houseplants and bouquets.
Before we even cover the poisonous plants, let’s focus on the biggest dangers. Insecticides ranked seventh on the ASPCA list, and lawn and garden products came in 10th. Keep all chemicals out of reach, and if you’re getting your lawn sprayed, allow at least a day before letting your pet on the grass.
Problem plants for pets
Many plants are poisonous or otherwise dangerous to pets, but luckily there are many more that are completely safe. Here are some toxic plants to avoid, followed by safe alternatives. This list is just an introduction and is by no means exhaustive, so refer to the ASPCA website to search for the plant in question.
Caladium, calla lily, tulip, daffodil, iris, narcissus, crinum, amaryllis, dahlia, lily of the valley, crocus
Canna, muscari, Scarborough lily, ginger
Annuals and perennials
Arum, elephant ear, begonia, sweet pea, coleus, bird of paradise, cyclamen, hellebore, hosta, lantana, chrysanthemum, morning glory, asparagus fern, geranium. Lilies and daylilies are toxic to cats but nontoxic to dogs.
When you’re building or renovating a home, having the right team on your side makes all the difference.
Building or renovating a home is a complex project with plenty of moving parts. Even if you’re planning to take a DIY approach, it’s likely you’ll need some help from contractors along the way. Here’s a guide to the types of contractors you might enlist to help you complete your dream home.
If you think of a general contractor like a general in the military, you have the basic idea of what a general contractor does. Like a general leading a military campaign, a general contractor organizes the strategy of a building or remodeling project. The general contractor decides when to bring in the plumbers, electricians, and roofers; makes sure they do their jobs correctly; and checks details, like ensuring that the carpenters install the porch handrails according to code.
Especially if there is no architect involved, the general contractor ensures that the building permits are in order and that the project is legal — meaning that it is being done to city or country building codes. (If it isn’t, your city’s building inspectors will make you redo it. Ouch!) Like a military general who is ultimately responsible for the success of a campaign, the general contractor is responsible for the outcome of remodeling project.
Subcontractors are specialists who work under the direction of the general contractor. Subcontractors include plumbers, electricians, tile setters, carpenters, framers, roofers, painters and cabinetmakers, among others.
Ideally, they show up at your construction or remodeling project when they are needed. If the subcontractors are reliable and efficient, the pace of your project continues to move steadily along, and it is finished when it is supposed to be. If all that happens, it is usually because a good general contractor has been overseeing their work.
Owner as general contractor
Homeowners who are skilled at organizing multimillion-dollar sales campaigns at their office or at running three local volunteer organizations in their spare time sometimes like to act as their own general contractors. There is no law that says you can’t. As a rule of thumb, general contractors charge about 15 to 20 percent of the total cost of the job, so acting as your own general contractor can save money.
But before you leap into the general contractor role, consider whether you really have the time, expertise, and patience to run a remodeling project, especially a complicated one. How much time can you spend on site? Can you take phone calls at unexpected times of the day?
The one thing you can count on with any remodel is that something will go wrong at some point. It may not be a big deal, but it will mean making new arrangements, often on short notice, and rearranging schedules for subcontractors and suppliers.
This could mean dozens of phone calls in a single afternoon. It could mean running around hunting down some piece of hardware or building material that is needed on site right now. If this sounds like fun, you may have what it takes to act as your own general contractor.
An alternative to hiring a general contractor or acting as your own is to hire a design/build firm. Design/build firms are companies that offer start-to-finish building and remodeling services. They employ architects or designers as well as the skilled builders.
A design/build firm essentially offers the services of architect, general contractor, and subcontractors. The obvious advantage to using these firms is that the entire project should be a fairly smooth operation, since the firm takes responsibility for everything.
While general contractors, subs, and independent architects can, in the worst scenarios, blame each other for mishaps and toss the responsibility for correcting the mishaps back and forth, design/build firms know the buck stops with them. They have to make it right.
If your home improvement project really is as straightforward as installing a wall of built-in bookshelves in your living room, your best bet is probably to find a good carpenter or cabinetmaker.
People who bill themselves as handymen may be fine at installing new light switches or doing minor carpentry, but, as always, ask to see some of their work. If you want your new bookshelves to look like elegant additions to your living room, find an expert in cabinetry.