Seasonal Allergies: 7 Plants to Be Aware of As the Seasons Change

Guest post by Rose Weber

As the seasons change, you should be enjoying the changing weather and scenery that come with the time of year. Unfortunately, during the spring and fall months in particular, millions of Americans are faced with a myriad of health problems that are brought on by the same culprits responsible for the seasonal beauty–plants.

Common allergy symptoms include runny nose and congestion, itchy eyes, sneezing, and swollen skin. You might have post nasal drip or even feel more tired than normal. If you’re an allergy sufferer, you’re not alone. Educate yourself on the most common plants to be aware of as the seasons change, and you’ll be one step closer to keeping yourself healthy throughout the year.

 1. Ragweed

Ragweed is arguably the most common trigger of seasonal allergies in North America, about one in five people suffers from a serious ragweed allergy. Ragweed counts are worse on hot, windy, or exceptionally dry days, with the highest levels of pollen being produced in mid-September. However, depending on the weather and the geography of the area in which you live, ragweed season can stretch from late July all the way to Thanksgiving.

2. Oak

Oak is grown all over the country, and many people prize these statuesque beauties for their ornamental value, making them common in residential landscaping as well as in recreational parks. However, many people are allergic to this plant’s pollen, and even if your own property doesn’t have oak on it, there’s a strong likelihood that some can drift by from a neighboring lot.

3. Mountain cedar 

Mountain cedar, technically a juniper, is part of a huge plant variety. There are dozens of trees and shrubs in this grouping that can cause allergic symptoms in people–and you might not be allergic to all types, either. Mountain cedar, however, are some of the most common trees, and one that should be on any allergy sufferer’s radar.

Juniper is common throughout most of the country, and it has a long pollen season. In some states, allergy season starts in January, and can last all the way into late June.

4. Elm 

Elm trees grow in every state in the United States, except for those with harsh winters. These trees produce their pollen in the fall and can cause serious symptoms like sneezing and watery eyes.

5. Grass pollens

There are dozens of grass types that can produce allergic symptoms, and it’s difficult for allergists to test different strains of grass. There are a handful of grass species that are significantly more likely to induce allergies than others.

Bermuda grass is a common culprit. This grass type is frequently grown on residential lawns in southern states such as Texas, and produces pollen when grass blades reach half an inch in height. It can grow throughout most of the year, producing serious problems for allergy sufferers.

Bluegrass is another common trigger. It tends to produce pollen in the summer months, and this grass type is commonly used on lawns throughout the United States. Other common grass allergens include johnson grass and ryegrass.

6. Birch 

Birch is a common allergy in the spring, as these plants begin to spread their pollen. These are easy trees to spot. Birch trees have distinguishing white bark with black stipples, and can be found throughout most of the United States. They are less common in the southern and western portions of the country, but their pollen is especially potent because many people tend to plant these trees as a landscaping feature. While they are beautiful to look at, beware of their sneeze-inducing potential.

7. Poplar 

These trees also produce pollen in the spring, and can be grown just about anywhere in the country. Their pollen is much more likely to trigger allergies in warmer climates as well as those in more polluted areas, but luckily, only the male trees make pollen. Poplar are great landscaping trees, being well-adapted to many soil types, so if you want to enjoy a beautiful yard without the running nose, consider planting female varieties instead.

While there’s not much you can do to eliminate an allergy, you can work to treat your allergies. Although growing research suggests that immunotherapy, or “allergy shots,” may be an option for reducing the body’s histamine response to certain allergens.

You can also consider taking an over-the-counter allergy medicine or antihistamine long before the allergy season begins. Limit your exposure to allergens by staying inside on warm, windy days, and use saline to help flush the allergens from your nose.

Another option is to get yourself tested at an allergist’s office to help determine which of these pollens produces the strongest allergic response. Once you are armed with this information, you will have a much healthier–and more enjoyable–allergy season next year.

 

Rose Weber is a garden care extraordinaire. She has been gardening since she was a child in and loves to spend her weekends teaching her grandchildren all about growing a vegetable patch. You can find her sharing her crop with her friends and neighbours.

9 Overlooked Items to Prep Your Home for Sale

Guest post by Cara Ameer

So you’ve prepped your home cosmetically for sale in every imaginable way – fresh paint, a deep cleaning, new landscaping, decluttered closets and even organized the garage!  Your house looks better then it ever has and you are ready to hit the market!  Before you proceed with the “For Sale” sign in the ground, there are several key pieces of information that you should consider gathering that today’s savvy buyers are going to want to know.

1.  Survey

Do you have a copy of a current survey on your home?  Have this document available and provide to your listing agent so they can include in the information about your home.  Buyers want to know about property lines, easements, conservation buffers, if there is room for a pool, if the property line extends to the water behind your home, etc.  Having a survey to provide upfront will help to eliminate these types of concerns vs. waiting until a property is under contract.

If you’ve made any changes that would affect your property such as adding a pool or fence since you took ownership and are not shown on your current survey, it’s important to advise the buyer.  A new survey will usually need to be ordered prior to closing in this scenario.  If you don’t have one from when you purchased the home, try contacting the title company or attorney’s office that handled the closing of the property.  Depending on how long ago that was, they may be able to retrieve from their archives.

2.  Floorplan or Appraisal Sketch 

Buyers often need to know room dimensions as it helps with determining furniture placement and to ensure how what they have will fit (or have to be reconfigured) in the new space.  As any real estate agent can attest, many hours have been spent measuring spaces while looking at a home and comparing that against the existing buyer’s furniture dimensions.  I’ve encountered entire home searches that revolved around a great room accommodating an entertainment center and the garage size so a motorcycle could fit in addition to the cars!

An appraisal is helpful as it can confirm the exact square footage of a home vs. relying on tax records which may not be accurate.  We’ve all heard stories where the appraisal showed the actual square footage that was smaller than what was initially represented in a listing sheet.  Having an appraisal will help to ensure that does not happen.  You should have received a copy of the appraisal if you obtained a mortgage loan from your lender or if you refinanced.  If you don’t have either, consider having a floorplan drawn up or home measured by an appraiser when prepping your home for sale. Your agent can assist with resources to this effect.

3.  Utility Bills 

Buyers want to get an idea of what they can expect the heating and cooling bills to be in a home.  Review your bills over the last one to two years to get an average in the various seasons, or call your local utility provider as they can often provide you with information on the high, average and low costs.  This information can be very beneficial when a buyer sits down to number crunch their total costs of owning a home.  If you had an unusually high or low bill, provide some explanation to accompany the numbers.

4.  Termite Bond 

In many markets where termites are alive and well, it is common place for homes to have some sort of protection plan in place which is also known as a bond.   In Florida, where I live and work, this is a primary concern and often one of the first questions buyers and their agents want to know.  Prior to listing your home, obtain a copy of your termite bond policy from the provider, know exactly what type of bond you have – repair or treatment bond and up to what dollar amount of coverage is it good for.  Also know how long the bond is in effect, when it is up for renewal and what the renewal fee is, if there is a transfer fee and what does it provide protection for – not all bonds provide protection against all different types of termites.

5.  Pest Control 

If you maintain any type of pest control on your property, compile information as to who the provider is, what you have done, how much you pay and how often does the company come out to treat the property.  A copy of your service agreement is helpful in this instance.

6.  Insurance 

Buyers especially want to know who a seller uses for their homeowners insurance and how much they pay.  This is particularly the case in higher risk areas (where there are hurricanes, floods, fires, etc.) With homeowners insurance potentially more difficult to obtain in some areas, going through the existing seller’s insurance company can help streamline the process, particularly on an older home.

7. Product Manuals and Warranty Documents  

Now is the time to gather the various product manuals for all items that will be staying in the home such as appliances, water heater, heating and cooling system, ceiling fans, pool equipment, etc.  If your home came with any warranties, be sure to include these for the new owner as well.  Putting all of these in one large envelope makes it easy for everything to be readily accessible in one place for the new buyer.

 8.  Service Providers

Compile a list of all service providers/vendors and their contact information who you have used on your home – lawn service, pool service, A/C company, etc. While a new buyer may or may not choose to use these services, they will certainly appreciate having resources available to them and may elect to initially use them as they make the transition to living in your home.

9.  Covenants and Restrictions, Neighborhood Rules and Information  

This is key critical information for a new owner to have on hand.  A contract may likely hinge on the buyer’s review of this information, so easiest to have it available ahead of time.  If you don’t have these, contact your neighborhood’s association president or management company for assistance in obtaining a copy. Many of these documents are matters of public record and are available by going online to the appropriate municipality’s website.

Work with your agent to create an informational package or binder that you can provide to prospective purchasers that come through the home with the information mentioned above.  Gathering this information before you put your home on the market will save time and make the process that more efficient once you find a buyer.  It may even help your home to sell faster as all of this information is available upfront, eliminating the need for guesswork and waiting on answers while another property could possibly come on the market to grab the buyer’s attention.  You want to help keep the buyer focused on your home, so make it easy for them to buy by giving them what they want.  Happy selling!  You can read more home seller tips here.

 

Cara Ameer is an agent with Coldwell Banker Vanguard Realty in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida and serves as a regular contributor on the local lifestyle show called First Coast Living where she covers a variety of real estate trends and topics of interest. Click hereto view Cara Ameer’s profile.


How to Swap Rooms to Make Your Old Home Feel New in 2019!

Co-Founder NorthStar Moving Company Laura McHolm

 Was one of your New Year’s resolutions to give your house a makeover or declutter? Tired of the old paint colors, the piles of catalogs, over stuffed closets and toys that your kids haven’t touched since 2013? Is your tween not lovin’ the Winnie the Pooh theme room anymore? Well, then its time to room swap!

Most of us move homes every 5-10 years but many stay put for decades. Moving is the time when we get rid of the most stuff, so if you haven’t moved in 5 or 10 years things are piling up! Remember when you first moved into your home? Life in your new home was full of possibilities: the empty space, clean shelves, the fresh paint, and newly organized, just moved into closets. Come on admit it, you want that feeling back. You can have all of that bliss again just by moving rooms in your home. It is a giant way to clean, get rid of unwanted belongings, redesign a room to fit your new needs and get set-up to attain your goals for the year.

Want to work out more in 2019? Transform your guest room into a work out space. Does your child need better study habits? Have them swap rooms with a sibling for a new fresh space with a new desk to inspire focus. Create rooms in your home that match your current interests, style and your kids’ ages. Move your house around to support your resolutions. Your newly arranged home will function so much better for your current goals and needs. The bonus is your house will feel bigger and new because you have gotten rid of so much stuff!

Convinced? So, how do you go about a room swap? I reached out to my cousin, Krista Burdine, who just implemented a room swap of her own. A freelance writer with three growing kids, Krista needed a quiet workspace away from the busy hub of the house. At the same time, her youngest daughter needed a bigger room. She has named the process: “Out-With-The-Old Room Switcheroo.” Here are the switcheroo steps to room swapping:

  1. Set Goals: Besides a cleaner, more organized, newly designed home, what do you want to get out of the room swapping? Sit down with each family member to determine what their goals are for the year and their new space. What type of room will support those goals?
  2. Make the Match: Based on the goals of each family member determine what room fits with their goals and desires for a space. Does Maren’s room best fit little Larkin’s desire for grown-up bunk beds? And, does Jesse’s room best fit Maren’s hope to create a space for her art? This planning also includes shared spaces. Has the office been unused? Change it into another living space, media room or game room. Make a detailed plan of what each room will be used for, who gets each bedroom and arrange each room to support each person’s goals.
  3. Measure: Save yourself major headaches by using a measuring tape. Make sure all the furniture will actually fit in the new dream layout. You can make drawings of each room to scale and use scale cut-outs of each piece of furniture – ala paper dolls. Move your new design layout around with your finger tips a few times before you actually do the heavy lifting.
  4. Design: Here comes the fun part! Each person gets to pick out the paint color for his or her new room, as well as drapes, new bedspread, furniture layout, etc. It is up to you how much you want to spend. Repurpose your old furniture – sand and repaint. Maybe’s Jesse’s desk is really the right size for Larkin now? Just sand it down and paint it her favorite color. Give your older kids a budget and stress they need to stay under budget. Tell, them: “It’s like having your own design show – how far can you make the money go?” No need to spend a lot, some heavy lifting and just a new paint color can transform a room!
  5. Move Out: Okay, brace yourself for a little bit of chaos but it will be so much better on the other side of the transformation. Set aside one week for each room swap. Move everything out of the chosen room. That child is now going to be camping in the living room and/or sleeping in the same room with a sibling for a week. Make sure they have a packed suitcase of what they will need that week (clothes, meds, school books, fish food, etc.…). Now, designate a space in your home where all of the furniture and belongings can sit for a couple of days. Garage? Basement?
  6. Sort: Now, sort EVERYTHING as it comes out of the old room into five piles: keep, recycle, store, donate to your favorite charity (a good start to this year’s taxes!) and items to pass along and repurpose for another family member. If you don’t have the time, hire a moving & storage company to help you move furniture and place items in storage, etc.
  7. Clean: Scour each room. This includes shampooing the carpet, waxing floors, washing windows, and dusting closet shelves. Clean the walls, fill up the nail holes, etc.
  8. Decorate: Once clean, paint the room in the soon to be new owner’s chosen color. Make any other DIY decorating makeover that this room’s budget allows. New carpet? New flooring? New area rug? Window coverings? New bedspread?
  9. Move In: Carpets are clean, paint is dry, its move-in day! Move in only the furniture and items that were selected to keep. Hang new and old wall art, put away clothes (clothes go vertically in drawers to save space) and handle every detail down to hanging the new occupant’s name on the door. That night the child gets to sleep in their new room that they designed themselves! Or, Dad gets to read a book in his new office. Whatever the new space is designed for, it is clean, organized and will inspire you in 2016!
  10. Next! Keep going until each room has it’s makeover and each person has their new space.

You really do have a way to have a fresh start in 2019, make it happen with new living space! Ready, set, swap and experience the Switcheroo! Yep, it’s going to be a Happy New Year, indeed! You’ve set yourself up to make your resolutions your reality!

Laura McHolm is an organizational, moving & storage expert and co-founder of NorthStar Moving Company. NorthStar Moving Company is an award winning, “A+” rated company, which specializes in providing eco-luxury moving and storage services.   www.northstarmoving.com

5 Kitchen Update Trends

The following is a guest post from Patti Stern

Whether you’re looking to invest in simple updates or a complete kitchen renovation, you can’t go wrong incorporating the latest design trends to enjoy now as well as boost your home’s value when it comes time to sell. If you’re not sure where to begin, check out our list below featuring on-trend elements we think will give you the most “bang for your buck.”

Kitchen Renovations by PJ & Company Staging and Interior Decorating; Photo Credits: Steven Seymour and Jeff Kaufman

1. Cabinet Color. Replacing or repainting dark, dated cabinets is a priority in any kitchen update as cabinets are both an aesthetic and functional focal point which get noticed immediately by buyers. In the kitchens pictured above, we use bright white shaker cabinets which remain a current favorite to brighten the space and provide a clean, modern appeal. For the first kitchen pictured, we introduced on-trend navy blue for perimeter cabinets and a built-in pantry and coffee bar to add depth and contrast to the white subway tile backsplash, white Quartz counters, wood flooring and stainless-steel appliances.

Kitchen Renovation by PJ & Company Staging and Interior Decorating; Photo Credit: Steven Seymour

2. Custom Storage. According to a recent Houzz study, “a top functional priority, cited by 63 percent of renovators, was having a kitchen in which it’s easy to store and find items.” In the kitchen above, we chose a large island that functions as both a work area with extra storage below as well as a casual eating space with bar stools. The surrounding custom cabinetry and built-in storage units add to the room’s efficiency and enhance the clean lines and modern style.

Kitchen Renovation by PJ & Company Staging and Interior Decorating; Photo Credit: Steven Seymour

3. Quartz Countertops. The Houzz study also found that Quartz (used for the island and counters in our kitchen remodel above) was the most popular countertop material in 2018. It has become a growing alternative to granite and marble for its durability, versatility and custom appeal.

Kitchen Renovation by PJ & Company Staging and Interior Decorating; Photo Credit: Steven Seymour

4. Full-Tile Feature Walls. With the popularity of open first-floor layouts and kitchens with wall-free transitions, there is more of a need for a focal point. One of the trends we continue to see is beautiful feature walls with counter-to-ceiling tile either behind floating shelves or a range hood (as shown above). Whether choosing a shimmery glass finish or a bold geometric pattern, it’s a cost-effective way to add high-end style, texture and depth.

Image Credit: Houzz

5. Mixed Metals. Designers are now selecting a mix of metal finishes for faucets, hardware, lighting and appliances to add a new level of depth, sophisticated style and personality to a space. Be careful not to choose too many different finishes that compete with the surrounding colors and materials. Keep it simple with two metals that balance the room well. A primary finish such as a cool chrome or stainless steel should take up two-thirds of the fixtures then choose a warmer accent such as antique brass for the remaining third.

For more examples of interior decorating and home staging, visit www.pjstagingdecorating.com.

Taking On Your Partner’s Debt: What to Ask Before You Consolidate

The following is a guest post by Jennifer Calonia.

Having candid conversations with your partner about debt can feel uncomfortable, especially if you’re newlyweds or planning a marriage and future together. The reality, however, is that money is often the leading cause of anxiety and stress in a marriage.

According to a 2018 study by Ramsey Solutions, a financial education resource, 86 percent of couples who got married in the last five years started out in debt. What’s more troubling is that couples with higher amounts of debt reported arguing more about money than respondents with less debt.

To avoid years of stress and heartache, have hard discussions early. Ask questions about each other’s debts and agree on a repayment strategy before you tie the knot. Communication can help turn a stressful situation into a marriage based on honesty and teamwork.  If you and your spouse want to combine your debts, here are a few key areas to explore.

Questions All Newlyweds Should Ask Before Consolidating Debt

Before filling out consolidation paperwork or making permanent debt-related changes, start by assessing each other’s financial health. Ask these core questions as you open the floor for conversations about debt.

1. How's our credit?

Keep in mind that your credit scores and credit reports don’t magically combine once you’re married. These talking points foster transparency in your marriage about past and current debt. For example, a credit report covers active and closed lines of credit, recent inquiries, bankruptcies, and overdue debt.

Sharing these details will help you both learn about recurring financial habits that might be problematic when working toward your long-term goals, like buying a home. You and your spouse are also entitled to receive a free copy of your credit report every 12 months.

While your spouse’s poor credit history may not be a cause to end your union, surfacing credit concerns can help you both strategize a debt repayment plan together.

2. What's our total debt?

In addition to reviewing each other’s credit reports and scores, you’ll want to calculate the hard numbers you’re up against – whether you’re planning to combine debt through formal debt consolidation or refinancing, or just want to figure out a plan for lowering your overall household debt.

Be sure to include every type of debt in your tally, including:

     Credit cards

     Mortgage

     Personal loans

     Student loans 

     Auto loans

Combine the remaining balances for each account and add up monthly payments, including the interest rates, so you have the full picture.

3. What's our budget?

Another question to consider before consolidating your debt is determining your joint budget. What are your shared monthly expenses each month, such as:

     Rent

     Mortgage payments

     Transportation costs

     Healthcare

     Utility bills

     Loan payments

          Subscription services

          Emergency savings

Tally your total monthly expenses so you and your partner know how much of the household income is available to double-down on repaying debt, and how much is locked up for recurring expenditures.

4. What are our long-term goals

Knowing where you and your sweetheart stand on long-term goals is critical to mapping out a debt repayment plan that works toward those goals. This conversation will likely lead to more questions, but that’s okay. 

You may not be able to figure this one out in one sitting, but starting the conversation early helps guide decisions about your debt, like setting a deadline for being a debt-free couple. 

5. Do we live in a community property state?

It’s helpful to know how you factor into your spouse’s debt liability on a legal level. In general, unless you cosign on your spouse’s debt (before or after getting married) or open a joint account after marrying, you’re not liable for their debt in the event of divorce or death.

However, if you live in a “community property” state, all assets and debts are considered community property, meaning that you’re both equally on the hook for the debt in a 50-50 split. The nine community property states are:

     Arizona

     California

     Idaho

     Louisiana

     Nevada

     New Mexico

     Texas

     Washington 

     Wisconsin

In these states, both spouses are equally responsible for any debt that accrued during the marriage (e.g., credit card debt or a car loan that your spouse took out without your consent) so setting ground rules about large purchases should be an important part of your debt reduction plan. The only exception to this rule is in the state of California, where educational loans are considered separate and not community property.

Strategies for debt repayment

As newlyweds, there are many ways to lower your debt together, so think creatively and come up with a plan that works best for your shared future and goals. 

Here are a few strategies to repay your debt as a team, sooner rather than later:

  • Debt avalanche. This approach saves you more money on interest over the life of each loan. For this strategy, you’d pay the minimum on every account, but apply extra funds toward the debt with the highest interest rate. Once you’ve repaid the account in full, move on to the next highest interest rate account, and so on.
  • Debt snowball. This method is all about small wins to keep you motivated about paying off your debt. First, make the minimum payment on all your debts, but apply extra funds toward the account with the lowest balance After you successfully pay off one account, move on to the next highest balance, and so on.
  • Debt consolidation or refinancing. Another option to repay debt is through debt consolidation programs or refinancing, which combine multiple debts into one new loan. This approach requires a good credit score, but it may also carry a higher interest rate or longer repayment term (both of which might mean more cost in the long run).
You'll both need consistency and communication to stick to your debt repayment plan. Whichever method you and your partner decide on, you should both acknowledge that you're in it together. And don't forget to celebrate the wins - no matter how big or small - along the way.

 

Jennifer Calonia is a native Los Angeles-based writer for Upstart whose goal is to help readers get excited about improving their financial health and lifestyle. Her work has been featured on Forbes, The Huffington Post, MSN Money, Business Insider, CNN Money, and Yahoo Finance. When she’s not wordsmithing, you can find her outdoors, exploring state and national parks.

Trends in Landscaping Design to Try This Year

The following is a guest post by Cat Murphy.

Whether you’re trying to sell your home or update the one you recently bought, there are plenty of ways to modernize your landscaping and add a touch of refreshing curb appeal. The latest trends include homeowners stepping outside the box with landscaping designs that have Mother Nature’s best interest at heart. Here’s a list of this years most up and coming popular trends.

Growing Produce

If you’re going to add plants to the garden, you might as well also grow something to eat. Planting edible options, like fruits and vegetables, is a great way to add interest and beauty to your landscaping that also offers plenty of health benefits. Growing food in your yard is a trending design that allows you and your guests to appreciate how food is grown. It’s also great for the environment and helps cut down on the weekly grocery budget. Choose fruits and vegetables that thrive in your community for an easier way to manage your garden.

Privacy

Speaking of privacy, you don’t have to install an ugly wooden fence. Plant a quick growing hedge or shrub to provide an extra barrier between your outdoor living space and your neighbors. Even a low growing shrub, like a boxwood, can create a semi-private feel to an area without hindering the view. Planting trees is another excellent way to add privacy and natural beauty to compliment a house.

Asymmetry

Shapes found in nature are rarely perfectly straight lines. Many homeowners now prefer the creativity of nature by reflecting curved or slanted lines in their landscaping. Slight curves on the outside edge of a garden bed and curved walkways are trending right now. These asymmetrical lines not only make your home more appealing, but they also create a softer overall look that embraces nature’s shapes. You can also include a free formed garden bed in the middle of a large lawn space that will add value to your home as well.  Be sure to use a weed eater to properly trim all edges for the best look possible. 

Xeriscaping

So you want a beautiful lawn and garden, but what if you don’t have time to keep it maintained? Xeriscaping is both a popular landscaping technique and design that incorporates plants acclimated to a specific region and decreases the amount of maintenance by using less turf. These plants are typically locally native plants that require little to no added water. They do well in the current climate conditions of the area and can be left alone for the most part.

Xeriscaping also encourages homeowners to replace lawn areas with non-organic mulching options, like stone, to create a truly unique look. While xeriscapes are more common in arid regions of the country, some homeowners use this type of landscaping in smaller portions of their yard that are either hard to access or have trouble growing other plants.

Adding any one of these landscaping techniques to your yard will help raise the overall curb appeal of your home. Consider changing a problem spot in the yard to a xeriscape or adding plants that provide nutritious food options. Creating privacy with quick growing plants as well as incorporating curved lines into your yard are other trends in landscaping design to try this year.

 

Cat Murphy is a gardening and landscaping writer, and outdoor extraordinaire. She enjoys cooking for family and friends and going on long hikes anywhere and everywhere in nature.

4 Tips to Making Your Home More Energy Efficient in 2019

The following is a guest post by James Witts.

If your resolution for 2019 includes cutting back on household expenses, making your home more energy efficient should be at the top of your list. You’ll find a wide range of products to help decrease your home’s energy consumption. Check out these four tips to make your home more energy efficient this year.

Go Solar

Harnessing the power of the sun is an easy way to incorporate energy efficiency into your home this year. Rooftop solar panels are becoming more popular and less expensive. Tax incentives can drastically reduce the cost of these systems.

Other solar powered options include outdoor lighting. You can choose a variety of lighting options that won’t consume any electricity. Solar powered flood lights, pathway lights, garden and porch lights are just a few of the many options available. Many of these lights are also motion censored, making them even more energy efficient. Consider installing a few of these around the outside of your home.

Auto-Renew Filters

The heating and cooling systems of your home are the primary source of energy consumption. Replacing older furnaces with newer energy efficient models is an excellent way to instantly cut down on energy costs. Can’t afford the newer options? Consider ordering your furnace filters online with an auto-renewal option. You’ll receive a new filter every few months making it easy to change. Doing so can help reduce energy costs as the heating and cooling systems won’t have to work as hard to force air through a clogged filter. Having the filters sent directly to your home also makes it more likely that you’ll replace them more often.

Plant Trees

If you live in the city of trees or an area with plenty of shade you may already be living more efficiently than you think. If not so much, an excellent way to add prolonged energy savings to your home is to plant shade trees in the yard. Not only do trees cut down on the amount of heat that hits your home, but they can also raise your home’s overall value. Trees help the environment by providing more air filtering qualities to the neighborhood. They also provide homes for pollinators and area wildlife. An Auburn University study concluded that your home’s energy costs will be reduced up to 11% by just having a mere 17% of your home shaded by a tree. Planting a few shade trees around your house today is a great investment that will make your home energy efficient for years to come.

Install A Tankless Water Heater

Many homeowners are choosing to ditch the large water heaters that can take up a good chunk of energy by continuously heating many gallons of water. A Tankless water heater only heats up the water that you immediately use. These smaller water heating systems cut down on the amount of space needed for heating water and cut down on the wasted energy of heating water that will need to be reheated later. Both gas and electric powered tankless heaters are available in these on-demand applications.

Any of these four tips will save you money and make your home more energy efficient in the new year. Upgrading to a tankless water heater and solar powered lights may cost you up front, but think of the savings you’ll see in 2019 and for years to come.

 

 

James Witts is an eco-conscious home improvement writer. He is constantly trying to find new ways to live off the grid while living in a tiny home with his wife, Andie. 

A Mindful Move: Home is Where the Om Is


Written by NorthStar Moving Co-Founder Laura McHolm

We are all trying to be more mindful. No reason to “try;” instead, relax and be. Easier said than done, right? We all strive to be mindful: aware of emotions, present in the moment, attentive to the needs of others, conscious of our planet and calm. But, in our mindful practice, we tend to let the stressful moments of life knock us off course. And, we all know that one of the most stressful times is moving. Even during your move, you can be mindful which will actually help you relieve the stress.

The goal is to stay present, aware and to not allow the outside turmoil of all your added to-dos for your move dictate your mood. Here’s a proven trick: Flip your mindset from reacting to the moving and packing to-dos, to how your move can impact you and others. By remaining thoughtful throughout the process and using the power of kindness, you can make your move a positive experience. After all, kindness is contagious; so spread it all around on moving day and in your new hood!

Here are simple ways to conduct a Mindful Move:

Be Mindful of Your Surroundings

Moving can be a time of giving. Show your new community and your old community some love by thinking about their needs. Now, take another look at all your stuff and your clutter. Do you really want, or need, all that in your new home? Perhaps, you have clothing, furniture, kitchen items or even food you have been meaning to clear out? No time like the present to give presents to those in need.

This is not just another to-do on your moving list, it’s very simple and the rewards are immense – it’s the ultimate win-win! You assist others and at the same time you receive a clutter free home. And, a clutter free home is a more mindful space, nurturing a clearer mind and calmer life.

  1. Donate Non-Perishable Food:
    • Find your local food bank here.
    • Visit www.MoveForHunger.org, a non-profit organization that will connect you with a local moving company that will deliver your non-perishable food donations to your local food bank for you. Check out their Find a Mover tool
  2. Donate Clothing:
    • Salvation Army
    • Epilepsy Foundation
    • Veteran organizations
    • Big Brothers Big Sisters of America
    • Red Cross
    • Check with your local fire department, churches, synagogues and schools, to see if they are hosting clothing donation drop offs
  3. Donate Toys:
    • Local children’s hospitals
    • Local Ronald McDonald House. Find a local Ronald McDonald location or care mobile here.
    • Local Boys & Girls Club
    • Many local shelters or children’s charities accept toy donations. Use this Homeless Shelter Directory to find shelters in your area.
    • Organizations like My Stuff Bags and Stuffed Animals for Emergencies offer children a familiar object in times of crisis.
    • Other places to check include a children’s social services office and even stores often have a donation bin at the front entrance where you can place donations.
  4. Donate Household Goods & Furniture:
    • Habitat for Humanity ReStore
    • Salvation Army
    • Epilepsy Foundation
    • Veteran organizations
    • Big Brothers Big Sisters of America
    • Red Cross
  5. Donate Vehicles
    • Habitat for Humanity Cars for Homes
    • Salvation Army
    • Kars 4 Kids
    • Wheels for Wishes
    • Cars Helping Veterans.org

Be Mindful of the Environment

Time to show Mother Earth some love. Moving is the time we finally clean out those closets, junk drawers, spare rooms, attics and garages. Moving time equals major trash time. What if you were more environmentally conscious on moving day? That would be pretty mindful, wouldn’t it?

The great green news is there are simple steps you can take during a move to reduce your waste. Being eco-conscious on moving day will boost your mood and your wallet!

1. Use Eco-Friendly Moving Supplies: From boxes, packing paper to bubble, there are now green 100% recyclable materials to keep our neighborhoods cleaner and greener. Yep, there is even biodegradable eco-bubble, pop away guilt free.
ECO-BONUS: Save money by asking your moving company for used boxes made of recyclable materials. You can get used boxes at a discount and some moving companies will even give you a refund for returning your used boxes at the end of your move. Pop! Pop! Cha-ching!

2. It’s Not Just for the Movies: Instead of the foam popcorn and peanuts, use real popcorn to pack fragile items! Just pop and fill the gaps in your boxes to secure and pad fragile items. Cheap and earth friendly!

3. Be Kind to Your Electronics: Contact a domestic e-waste recycler so your old computers, microwaves, etc. are recycled domestically, under strict environmental laws, rather than being shipped off to be processed by highly toxic and polluting techniques.

4. Don’t Just Toss it out. Upcycle and recycle everything you can. Don’t just send your old stuff to the land fill. See above on how to Donate. Donate. Donate.

5. Hire an Eco-Conscious Moving Company: Use your “green” to influence and encourage green habits by hiring companies that use environmental-friendly practices. Make sure your moving company is bright green by asking: Does the staff recycle? Are the offices and warehouse designed to be energy efficient? Do they use biodiesel to run their trucks? Do they use 100% recyclable materials? Do they sell used boxes? Do they buy them back at the end of the move? Chances are if they care about the earth, they are mindful of their customers too!

By using the power of mindfulness and kindness, you will feel more relaxed and calm during your moving experience. There is no better way to start a new chapter in life than feeling good about giving back, free of clutter and present in your new home! Time to relax and say how good it is to be om.

 

 

Laura McHolm is an organizational, moving & storage expert and co-founder of NorthStar Moving Company. NorthStar Moving Company is an award winning, “A+” rated company, which specializes in providing eco-luxury moving and storage services.

5 Apps to Redecorate Your Home with Your Phone

Guest post by Lori Cunningham

With dozens of decorating apps to choose from and inspiration just a finger touch away, redecorating your home has never been easier. Augmented Reality (AR) now lets you use your phone to see how colors, accessories, and furniture will look in your own house. On the horizon, you can expect to see apps using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to learn your style through your interaction with them.

Whether you’re looking to give your living room a quick refresh or want to completely revamp your home, these five apps can help you get started. Create a stunning look without blowing your budget — no professional interior designer needed.

Houzz: Start with online inspiration

Apps like Pinterest and Instagram have plenty of pictures and designs to start your inspiration journey. However, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, and keeping track of design ideas can be cumbersome.  It’s not always simple to buy an item featured in a picture, and you might need to search around to find a similar item. A site like Houzz can help you keep everything organized and in one place.

Houzz covers architecture, interior design, decorating, landscape design, and home improvement. It has over 17 million high-resolution photos, all of which can be filtered by room, style, budget, size, color, or a combination.

 

Many of the pictures have purchasing information on the featured items, allowing you to purchase them within the Houzz app.  You can also save pictures to an “Ideabook” to help keep your style ideas all in one place.

The app uses AR to help you see what an item will look like in your home. Click the “View in my room” button to see the item in 2D using your phone’s camera. 

The Houzz app is free on iOS and Android.

MagicPlan: Create a floor plan from your phone

To ensure that the furniture you plan to purchase fits in the room you’d like to decorate, it helps to create a floor plan.  The MagicPlan app lets you input the dimensions of a room by measuring, drawing, or using your phone’s camera to create the floor plan.

Once you’ve added your room’s dimensions, you can add doors, windows, structural features, plumbing, appliances, electrical, HVAC, furniture, flooring, and more to your floor plan.  Many of these features are free to use, but there is an in-app cost for things like cabinetry, light switches, and outlets.

When you add MagicPlan’s 2D furniture, you can adjust it to the size you want by using your fingers or inputting the dimensions.  You can add your own photos to your floor plan, as well.  

If you are planning to paint or replace the flooring, estimate how much it would cost by clicking “Estimate” for the approximate price. Just remember the estimates do not include the cost of labor.

MagicPlan is free on iOS and Android.

TapPainter: Virtually paint your walls

Swatches from your local home improvement store make it hard to envision the color of the whole room, and buying paint samples can get expensive. The TapPainter applets you choose paint colors from Benjamin Moore, Behr, Sherwin Williams, and other popular brands.

Use the app to snap pictures of the room you want to paint and try out different colors by entering the code from a paint swatch, choosing a color from one of the brands included, or mixing your own custom color.  You can even add different colors to different walls.

TapPainter is free on iOS.

DécorMatters: Design a room using AR

DecorMatters is an app that lets you virtually add pieces and design elements to a real room.  Take a picture of the room you want to decorate and use AR and the AR ruler to add and measure 3D pieces. This is a simple way to see if a piece you’ve been eyeing will fit. 

The app features items from popular stores like Crate & Barrel, Target, Overstock, West Elm, IKEA, and Ashley, and you can make in-app purchases right from your phone. You can save your ideas to your mood board to share with friends, and the DecorMatters in-app messaging also offers free feedback and suggestions from real DecorMatters interior designers.

DecorMatters is free on iOS.

Art.com: Add some art to your walls

Finally, the Art.com app offers hundreds of frame styles and sizes to help you plan your gallery wall. Use the app to arrange different layouts to see how your gallery wall could look.

Art.com’s latest app release also lets you upload your own artwork and family pictures to pair with any style frame, and you can even have them printed on canvas, wood mount, acrylic, and more.

The Art.com app is free on iOS and Android.

It’s easy to create a stunning look that suits your style, all from your phone. These five apps offer the inspiration, confidence, and guidance you need to get started on your redecorating project.

Lori Cunningham is a family tech advocate and contributing writer for Xfinity Mobile. She is a mom to two creative children and started the WellConnectedMom.com to share her passion for technology with others.

Top Tips for Keeping Your Garage Neat and Organized

The following is a guest post by the Closet Works Inc.

The garage ranks high along with the basement for spaces where families tend to dump things they don’t know what to do with.

It’s easy to store a box you never unpacked, some outdoor equipment or some unused paint in your garage and simply ignore the fact that it’s there when you pull in your car each night.

But the clutter becomes more difficult to ignore when, for example, you’re stuck clearing snow off your car or running out to your driveway during a downpour because you’ve filled your garage with too much stuff.

You can’t ignore your messy garage forever; and in fact, spring is an excellent time to clean and organize it. It’s not too hot, and you’ll probably need to get to items in your garage like lawn and garden equipment and your kids’ outdoor toys.

Here are our top tips for organizing your garage so it stays neat and tidy.

Clean and Sort Everything

If you actually do park your car in your garage, pull it out into the driveway or, better yet, park it on the street so you’ve got plenty of room to clean out your garage.

Unload everything first, even the boxes that haven’t been emptied since you moved in eight years ago. It might be helpful to lay a few tarps on the ground to protect your goods while you do this. Arranging specific piles of your stuff on tarps is also a helpful way to force yourself to keep a smaller number of items—keep only what you can fit in a given area.

Sort your goods into a few piles—what you want to keep, what you’d like to sell or donate, and what should be thrown out. Importantly, if you’re getting rid of paint, paint thinner, used motor oil or household chemicals, be sure to dispose of them properly.

After the space is organized, you’ll have plenty of room for a garage or yard sale to get rid of those unwanted items at a later date.

Figure Out How You'll Organize Your Stuff

 

Garages typically house a unique mix of car-related items, tools, gardening equipment, bikes, kayaks, fishing gear, snow removal tools, beach items and more. It can be a challenge to figure out how exactly to store everything.

To give things their own place, you might want to consider a custom garage storage solution with options to store a wide range of items.

A design professional can create a plan that affords you enough space to add a workbench with drawers and cabinets for tool or hobby storage. For the gardener in your family, you could also add a potting area with a work surface.

During the cleaning phase, you should inventory any dangerous chemicals to see if they’re still usable. Then you can add locked cabinets to keep those dangerous chemicals and sharp tools safely away from curious kids.

The garage is a prime area for storing sports equipment like bikes and skis and gardening tools like a hose or rake, which can all be stored off the floor with wall racks. You can also add baskets for bulky things like balls, gloves, masks or pads.

Cabinets, both with swing-out and sliding doors (if space is tight when cars are parked), can house many other items you need to store like bottled water, things you buy in bulk or even outdoor furniture accessories.

Find a New Home for These Items

Consider a new home for some items which are best stored in areas other than your garage.

  • Paint should be stored inside where the temperature remains somewhat consistent. Store it out of reach of children and pets in your basement or a closet.
  • Propane tanks shouldn’t be stored in your garage; a spark could ignite the tank. Instead, store the tank upright and outside in a well-ventilated area away from any ignition source.
  • Paper towels, plates, napkins, cardboard and other paper goods are better kept in your pantry if the packages are open. Storing them in your garage could attract bugs. They could also get damaged by moisture.
  • Pet food also belongs inside; storing it in your garage could attract mice, rats, possums and other creatures you probably don’t want hanging out there.

While your initial garage organization effort may not be the most fun chore, you’ll be glad you tackled the clutter and created a better storage system later in the year. Rather than spending precious time searching for your kids’ bikes and skateboards, you’ll be able to easily find them and enjoy yourselves.

If you’re interested in learning more about organizing your garage, reach out to us for a free, in-home consultation.