Most of us tend to think of air pollution as something that occurs outdoors where car exhaust and factory fumes proliferate, but there’s such a thing as indoor air pollution, too. Since the 1950s, the number of synthetic chemicals used in products for the home has increased drastically, while at the same time, homes have become much tighter and better insulated. As a result, the EPA estimates that indoor pollutants today are anywhere from five to 70 times higher than pollutants in outside air.
Luckily, there are many ways to reduce indoor air pollution. We all know that buying organic and natural home materials and cleaning supplies can improve the air quality in our homes, but there are several other measures you can take as well.
How pollutants get into our homes
Potentially toxic ingredients are found in many materials throughout the home, and they leach out into the air as Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs. If you open a can of paint, you can probably smell those VOCs. The “new car smell” is another example of this. The smell seems to dissipate after a while, but VOCs can actually “off-gas” for a long time, even after a noticeable smell is gone.
We all know to use paint and glue in a well-ventilated room, but there are many other materials that don’t come with that warning. For instance, there are chemicals, such as formaldehyde, in the resin used to make most cabinets and plywood particle board. It’s also in wall paneling and closet shelves, and in certain wood finishes used on cabinets and furniture. The problems aren’t just with wood, either. Fabrics—everything from draperies to upholstery, bedding, and carpets—are a potent source of VOCs.
The good news about VOCs is that they do dissipate with time. For that reason, the highest levels of VOCs are usually found in new homes or remodels. If you are concerned about VOCs, there are several products you can buy that are either low- or no-VOC. You can also have your home professionally tested.
How to reduce VOCs in your home
Make smart choices in building materials.
- For floors, use tile or solid wood—hardwood, bamboo, or cork – instead of composites.
- Instead of using pressed particle board or indoor plywood, choose solid wood or outdoor-quality plywood that uses a less toxic form of formaldehyde.
- Choose low-VOC or VOC-free paints and finishes.
Purify the air that’s there.
- Make sure your rooms have adequate ventilation, and air out newly renovated or refurnished areas for at least a week, if possible.
- Clean ductwork and furnace filters regularly.
- Install air cleaners if needed.
- Use only environmentally responsible cleaning chemicals.
- Plants can help clean the air: good nonpoisonous options include bamboo palm, lady palm, parlor palm, and moth orchids.
- Air out freshly dry-cleaned clothes or choose a “green” cleaner.
Fight the carpet demons.
- Choose “Green Label” carpeting or a natural fiber such as wool or sisal.
- Use nails instead of glue to secure carpet.
- Install carpet LAST after completing painting projects, wall coverings, and other high-VOC processes.
- Air out newly carpeted areas before using.
- Use a HEPA vacuum or a central vac system that vents outdoors.
- Clean up water leaks fast.
- Use dehumidifiers, if necessary, to keep humidity below 60 percent.
- Don’t carpet rooms that stay damp.
- Insulate pipes, crawl spaces, and windows to eliminate condensation.
- Kill mold before it gets a grip with one-half cup of bleach per gallon of water.
We hope this information is helpful. If you would like to learn more about VOCs and indoor air quality, please visit http://www.epa.gov/iaq/.
Now that spring has sprung, let’s clear the cobwebs and get your home ready! Here is our quick guide to spring home maintenance:
Inspection top to bottom: Now that the weather is temperate you will want to check on how your home weathered the winter. Check the roof for leaks, the gutters for damage, and the siding for cracks. You will also want to inspect your basement or foundation for any shifts. Make repairs now to prevent further damage.
Clean out the gutters: April showers bring May flowers… so clear out the gutters to keep rain from pooling on your roof or near your foundation.
Pest control: Spring is mating season for eight-legged critters, so sweep out cobwebs, clear debris, and check the nooks and crannies. If you live in an area prone to dangerous species like brown recluse or black widows, you may want to contact your local pest control, but otherwise, household spiders do help eliminate other bugs.
HVAC system: If you have an air conditioner now is the time to check to make sure it is ready before summer gets here and everyone else is clamoring for maintenance. Now is a good time to check your home air filters and replace or upgrade to keep allergens at bay.
Clear the clutter: Do a sweep around the house and get rid of junk that you don’t use! Take a little time each week to tackle a room. Closets, playrooms, and basements can be especially daunting, but getting rid of old stuff and refreshing your space will go a long way!
Deep clean: On a nice day open the windows, dust, wipe, scrub, and clean. You will get a nice workout and your home will look and feel so fresh after a winter of being cooped up.
Update your décor: Add a splash of color to your home with small embellishments. Add a colorful vase, a lighter throw for your sofa, pretty pastel pillows, or spring-time candles, to upgrade your living space.
Take it outdoors: Let your throw rugs, curtains, and other tapestries air our outside. Shake off the dust, spot clean what you can and let everything bask in the sun for an afternoon.
Don’t forget the back yard: It may not be time to start up the grill, yet, but you can get started on your outdoor entertaining checklist. Check your lawn, and if you have some spare spots start filling in with seed. Check your outdoor plants, prune, plant bulbs, start to replenish the soil for your garden, and mow, so you are ready to start when the season allows.
Speaking of the grill – if you have a gas grill you will want to pull this out and perform a maintenance check. Clean everything up and check to make sure all the gas lines are clear, as these can get clogged after sitting idle all winter. Make sure the grill is clear of spiders too, as they can build webs in the tubes, causing damage to your grill. You can start to bring out your garden furniture too, or clean it up if you left it covered outside all winter. Because before you know it, it’ll be barbeque season!
On any given weekend in my house, at least a couple of hours will be spent watching the designers, craftspeople and entertainers on HGTV or its spunky sister station, the DIY Network. The premise of these home-centered television networks is that somewhere, sandwiched between long commercial breaks for paint, faucets, flooring warehouses and something called “Slab Jacking”, you’ll find programming about real people making real decisions about their homes. Sometimes those decisions are about buying a home, while other times they may be about selling or remodeling a home. In all of the situations, experts are brought in to help and a camera crew just happens to tag along, so the rest of us can enjoy the unfolding drama from the comfort of our couches.
Home improvement programming has been around for a long time and is generally considered reality TV, but a lot of the real life is lost between cuts. Here’s a quick guide of some of the more popular programs.
House Hunters – The formula is simple but always entertaining. Each episode begins with someone unhappy with their living situation, so they call an agent and look at 3 properties. After weighing the options, a home is chosen. Of course, this show is over-simplified and leaves out the long weekends the buyer spends in their agent’s car driving from listing to listing. What you do get is a sense of home values and styles in different regions, the humor of buyers’ reactions to homes, and the excitement new home owners feel as they take the keys to their dream home. You rarely get the type of tension home shopping can bring. The big climax of the show is when an offer is made: the narrator might say something like, “Though their offer was rejected the first time around, the other buyer ultimately backed out and they ended up getting the house for X amount.” But I don’t think they usually talk about it at all. For that kind of tension, you need to check out Property Virgins. The best part of the half hour happens in the last 30 seconds when you see how the new owner redecorates the home in their own style.
Property Virgins– Similar premise to House Hunters, except these first-time homebuyers walk through the basics. The best part about the show is the excitement (and sometimes clumsiness) of the virgin house-hunters. The worst part of this show is when would be homebuyers have unrealistic expectations for their first home.
House Hunters International – Comparable to House Hunters but everyone has accents and the kitchens are shockingly small.
Designed to Sell – Did you know that your spare bedroom filled with Grandpa’s taxidermy and the vintage 1950’s kitchen can be a turn-off to potential buyers? Valuable lessons like these are a just a few of the gems I’ve picked up on Designed to Sell. Each episode features a home which has been racking up days on the market but no one is interested in buying. That’s where the army of carpenters and designers step in. When they’re done, the house that looked like Grandma’s musty basement now looks like the lobby of a hip hotel, and they only spent a few hundred dollars. I love this program for the inspiration but find it short on reality. The listed prices of these improvements don’t seem realistic, and I often wonder if the costs include the lifetime of carpentry skills, design training, garage filled with power tools and time required to do the job. If you are looking for design ideas and hope for a home that isn’t attracting buyers, you’ll find some great ideas here, but take the true cost of those improvements with a grain of salt.
Real Estate Intervention – Being a real estate agent takes a lot of diplomacy, and this is never more important than that moment they suggest a market-friendly price to a home seller. On Real Estate Intervention, that diplomacy generally fails, sellers are unrealistic, and a stern man with a menacing mustache steps in for an intervention. He dishes out tough love to the seller and paints a clear picture of market reality. In a half hour he is able to change minds and make the seller feel good about the decision they made.
This Old House – This PBS staple wrote the book on home improvement programming. With TOHyou’ll trade commercials for pledge drives, but you’ll also get a more cerebral home improvement viewing experience. TOH does take patience, as it takes a full season to complete a home improvement project instead of 30 minutes on other programs. If you are looking for the same quality instruction in a more digestible format, you can check out the spin off, Ask This Old House.
Be warned that the home improvement bug often bites soon after watching any of these programs. After a long HGTV bender, I find myself wandering through the paint sample aisle and making trips to home improvement stores that aren’t on my way home from the office. Sometimes life does imitate art and the voice in the back of my head keeps saying, “They make it look so easy.”
What about you? Do you find home-improvement shows useful or do you think they set unrealistic expectations? What are your favorite home-improvement resources?
by Justin Waskow
Posted in Living by Windermere Guest Author
It seems the winter is settling in early through much of the West Coast this year, with October frost and early winter warnings. Last week The Seattle Times reported, “This year will bring the most intense La Niña conditions since 1955 … Meteorologists say more rain, colder temperatures and bigger snowstorms are likely.” Whether the meteorologists are right this year or not, now is the time to do some home repair so you can enjoy the winter inside your warm house.
Weatherizing your home should be more than just packing in your patio furniture, checking your furnace and cleaning out your rain gutters, though these make a big difference in preparing your home and avoiding December disasters. Weatherizing your home–especially in light of harsh warnings–will protect your investment from preventable damage, save money on energy costs and, most importantly, keep your home safe and warm for you and your loved ones throughout the winter season. Here is a useful checklist to manage your weatherization project.
Getting started: Check your toolbox to make sure you have all the materials you need for home maintenance in one place. This NY Times article provides a good list of the tools you’ll really need to maintain your home. After your toolbox is put together, you can confidently begin the maintenance on your home.
Insulation: According to the Sustainable Energy Info Fact Sheet “Insulating a home can save 45-55% of heating and cooling energy”. For the best results, your home should be properly insulated from the ceilings to the basement. However, if insulating your complete home is not in your budget, the U.S. Department of Energy states, “one of the most cost-effective ways to make your home more comfortable year-round is to add insulation to your attic.” By starting in your attic and progressively adding insulation to other areas of your home over time, you will avoid spending a large sum of money up-front.
Cracks & Leaks: Do a run-through of your entire house for cracks and leaks, from your roof to your baseboards. Winter weather is unpredictable. Whether your area gets rain, wind or snow, cracks in your house can lead to cold drafts or leaks that cause water damage. Do-it-Yourself.com reports, “The average house, even when well-insulated, contains cracks and gaps between building materials that add up to a hole about 14 inches square. All year long, a leaky house not only wastes energy, but can lead to water damage and provide a path for insects”. Depending on your house type, most cracks can be easily filled with supplies from your local hardware store in a do-it-yourself fashion. Use caulk to seal any cracks in the permanent building materials.
Windows & Doors: Another common place for heat leakage is in your windows and exterior doorways. Make sure seals are tight and no leaks exist. If you have storm windows, make sure you put them on before the cold season begins. This 5 minute video, How to Caulk Windows & Doors, demonstrates how to find leaks, pick the correct tools to use, and fill in the leaks. Don’t underestimate the difference some weather strips and a door sweep can provide in preventing drafts and keeping the heat in.
Rain Gutters: Clean your rain gutters of any debris. Buildup will cause gutters to freeze with ice, crack and then leak. Once you have removed the residue from the drains, test them by running hose water to make sure cracks and leaks have not already formed.
Pipes: Pipes are a number one risk in winter climates. A burst pipe can become a winter disaster in a matter of seconds. Remember to turn off your exterior water source and take in your hose. Internally, wrapping your pipes is a recommended precaution to take. This article from Insights, Natural Hazard Mitigation advises, “Vulnerable pipes that are accessible should be fitted with insulated sleeves or wrappings, the more insulation the better”.
Heating System: What is one thing gas fireplaces, wood burning stoves, and central air heating systems all have in common? They all need to be cleaned and maintained. Check and clean your indoor heating system thoroughly. This is important to avoid dangers such as house fires. If you use an old fashioned wood stove, make sure there is no leaks and that all soot build up or nests are removed. If a furnace is what you have remember to change the filters as recommended or clean out your reusable filters.
Fireplace & Wood burning stoves: Make sure to have chimneys and air vents cleaned early in the season if you are planning on warming your home with a wood-burning source. When your fireplace is not in use make sure to close the damper, some resources estimate an open damper can increase energy consumption as much as 30%.
Outside: As we mentioned before make sure you bring your patio furniture inside (or cover) for the winter- but don’t forget other, smaller items such as your tools, including a hose and small planting pot. These items can be damaged or broken in extreme cold. Clear out any piles around the side of your house, checking for cracks as you go so to avoid providing shelter for unwelcomed guests over the cold season.
If your property has large trees check for loose branches and call someone to trim back any items that may fall in your yard, on your roof or even damage a window.
Emergency Kit: Make sure your emergency kit is up-to-date with provisions, batteries, fresh water, food for animals, entertainment for kids, etc- especially if you live in an area prone to power outages.
When it comes to protecting our investments and our families’ safety “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is a good philosophy. Your winter preparedness plan will fit your property, schedule and needs. What are some tips you have for preparing for winter? What are some of your favorite activities to do at home over the winter while weathering out a storm?
By Brittany Lockwood
You may know Brittany as the helpful voice behind the Marketing Solutions Help Desk. She grew up in Cheney, Washington so she knows a thing or two about harsh winters.
Your home is a reflection of your tastes, your lifestyle and your ambition, and many of us are regularly transforming our homes one way or another to fit our adjusting needs. Whether it is refreshing a room to fit your style, reorganizing a closet to accommodate the holiday excess, going green to save the planet and a couple of bucks or a complete renovation of your kitchen- homes take maintenance. Some projects come about on a whim, but if you have any plans to make your nest nestier here are some ideas for not getting too overwhelmed by the process- no matter how large or small the changes you want to make:
Get Organized: Whether it is your closets, books, pantry or your entire basement identifying the problem is the first step. Once you know where to focus your energy think about the purpose your space should fulfill, what you want it to look like and how you can keep it organized for the long-term. Sometimes getting organized is a matter of doing a little bit every day, or it is finding the right storage solution. Once you know what the problem is you can identify your steps, timeline and budget. Ultimately, getting rid of the clutter and holding onto items you love the most and use will keep your spaces easy to manage year round.
Do a little every day: Everyone has a different method to managing home madness; some have a weekly cleaning routine, some focus room by room others pile everything in the closet until they have to deal with it. If you have a goal of getting rid of old possessions and clutter, remodeling your home office or keeping your home cleaner spend five to thirty minutes a day working to achieve your goal. Here is a good idea for keeping your home clean by doing a little every day, rather than spending your weekend playing catch up.
Beautification/ Gardening: This year my big goal is to finally start our edible garden, but I have been overwhelmed by all the steps- from finding the right containers for the garden, deciding what to plant, when to start the starts, etc. Each region has different gardening challenges; the plants that thrive in Seattle are different than Spokane or San Diego so if you are planning on a garden make sure you familiarize yourself with local resources that will give you advice specific to your area. If you have any landscaping projects, keep in mind advance planning is paramount to making this affordable, timely and sustainable. If you are planning on putting your house on the market eventually, make beautification a priority and plan your exterior in a way that will increase the curb appeal of your home in the future.
Home Improvement Projects: If you have an ongoing list of home improvement projects, make sure you have the right tools in your toolbox and prioritize and plan. You don’t want to spend every weekend working on dripping faucets so create a routine. When looking at the year ahead, think about seasonality of the projects. It is important to know when to ask for help from a professional in order to have repairs done right in the first place to avoid putting yourself at risk or the safety of your home.
Go Green: If your resolution this year is to save money and the planet by reducing your carbon footprint there are projects you can do large and small. Start with an energy audit, that way you know where your energy is actually being used- you may be surprised. Easy fixes start with replacing light bulbs with CFLs and buying energy cords that limit vampire appliances to use energy when they aren’t in use. If you are replacing your old appliances with newer energy efficient models, make sure you check into recycling programs in your area. Go here for more green resolution ideas.
Renovations: Whether you are doing the renovations yourself or working with a contractor, projects of scale are never easy. Make sure you plan for the inconvenience of going without a kitchen as well as the details of putting your new kitchen in place. Also, before investing in a renovation, make sure you will get a return on your investment when you resell. If you are looking to increase the value and marketability of your home check out this list before you start tearing down walls.
Warmer months are ahead, so now is the time to plan for spring cleaning and maintenance. A clean home offers a fresh start for the year, and a checklist of tasks guides your efforts towards efficiency. For many homeowners, spring cleaning can be a personal challenge. It can also be one accomplished with the help of the rest of the family or other residents. In some occasions, however, professional assistance may be advised, or even necessary. Regardless, regular home maintenance not only increases your home’s value, but it can also make your home more comfortable and enjoyable.
Check Your Attic
Once summer arrives, it can be too hot in many regions to comfortably perform an inspection. Use late winter and early spring to ensure the following: there’s ample insulation (10 to 14 inches), there are no signs of mice or rats (droppings, strong odor, nests), there are no bugs (flying, crawling, or otherwise), and there are no signs of roof leaks (water stains, etc.).
Schedule HVAC Maintenance
Annual tune-ups on your heating/cooling equipment will reduce your energy bill and help ensure you can maintain a comfortable indoor temperature.
Fix the Window Screens
It won’t be long before you’ll want to throw open the windows for fresh air, or relief on a warm afternoon. Take time now to ensure your window screens are ready for the challenge. Many traditional neighborhood hardware stores still offer re-screening services. Contractors also specialize in this service and are available for house calls.
Clean the Ceiling Fans
During the warm weather and the cold, ceiling fans can help moderate the temperature and better distribute the air. But your fans will be far more efficient if you give them a good cleaning a couple times each year. For fans mounted up to 10 feet in the air, you can use a ladder to access the tops of the fan blades. For those mounted on vaulted ceilings, use a long-handled duster.
Apply Weather Stripping
Many homeowners think of weather stripping as a cold-weather commodity, but it’s just as important during summer. To keep the cool air in and the hot air out, use any of the many filler materials available to seal gaps around windows, doors, exhaust fans, and any other point where you can see light peeking through.
Look for Damaged Roof Shingles
Use binoculars (with your feet safely planted on the ground) to scan for roof shingles that are curling, broken, or missing. If anything seems compromised, have a roofing company perform an inspection and provide a bid. If you or any members of your family are enterprising drone users, a camera-affixed drone can also be a useful aid in this reconnaissance effort.
Wash the Exterior
An easy way to extend the life of your exterior paint – and make your house look better than ever – is to give the siding a good washing. Use mostly water (to avoid harming any plants) and a stiff pole brush.
Search Out Rotten Wood
While you’re washing the exterior, keep an eye out for areas where there may be rot. Use a screwdriver to gently but firmly press on any siding or trim where you see black mold, missing paint, or exposed gray wood. If the area you’re probing feels mushy or bone-dry, contact a contractor to assess and stabilize the situation.
Clean the Gutters
All it takes is a handful of leaves to clog a gutter downspout and cause overflow and flooding. Hire a professional to give the gutters a thorough cleaning and you’ll avoid the very real dangers of working from a ladder. If you live in an area with lots of trees, consider getting quotes for some of the leaf-less gutter systems.
Prepare Your Lawn to Grow
The winter sets impediments for your lawn, and it takes preparation to help it shine. Rake away any dead grass and aerate the whole lawn to allow nutrients to access the roots. Reseed bare spots and apply a spring fertilizer to ensure your lawn has the fuel it needs to grow strong and beautiful.
You’ll never have a second chance at a first impression, so let’s make it count! When it comes to upping your home’s curb appeal, there are plenty of small changes you can make that have a big impact. And best of all, you don’t need to call in the pros or spend a fortune to get beautiful results. Below are some helpful and affordable tips.
A Well-Maintained Yard
Mowing: The first step to a well-manicured lawn is to mow it regularly. The experts recommending mowing high because mowing it too short can damage the grass and allow weeds to set root.
Weeds: To prevent weeds like crabgrass use a pre-emergent herbicide in early spring. These herbicides manage the weeds by stopping the seeds from sprouting in your lawn. Broadleaf weeds like dandelions can be stopped by applying granular weed control products.
Feeding: Lawns consume mostly nitrogen, so look for mixes of fast and slow release fertilizers; they will feed your lawn over time while keeping it lush and green.
Watering: Nighttime watering can result in long spans of moisture on the blades, potentially exposing your grass to disease. Consider watering your lawn in the morning – the sun helps dry out the blades throughout the day.
Flowers: You can quickly and affordably dress up your yard with colorful pre-made flower pots and containers. When placing your flower pots and containers remember that asymmetrical arrangements and staggering plants will provided the liveliest setting.
Dress up the Front Door and Porch
Paint: A fresh coat of paint in a pop color can give your home a well-deserved facelift. If you are hesitant to add a bright color to your front door, check out our article Energize Your Home This Winter With Bright Hues.
Replace Old Hardware: Clean off any dirty spots around the door knob, and use a metal polish on the fixtures. Change out house numbers for an updated feel, put up a wall-mounted mailbox, or add an overhead light fixture. Keep in mind that well thought through elements, instead of mix-and-match pieces, will add the most curb appeal.
Create Perfect Symmetry: Symmetry is one of the simplest design techniques to master and is the most pleasing to the eye. Maintain symmetry by flanking your front door with two sidelights (just make sure that your hardware matches); find two urn planters or a unique visual detail to put on either side of your door.
Whether you are buying or selling a home, mold has become a hot issue. Health concerns and potential damage make mold a red flag for buyers. And even if you’re not planning to sell any time soon, taking care of mold problems now can prevent even larger problems in the future. Contrary to what some people think, mold is not a geographic problem—it can occur anywhere, no matter where you live. Here is some basic information about mold and how to deal with it.
What is mold?
Molds are microscopic organisms that are found virtually everywhere, indoors and outdoors. There are thousands of different kinds of mold. Their natural function is to help break down dead materials such as stumps and leaves so the nutrients can be used by the environment. For molds to grow, they need two things: an organic food source—such as leaves, wood, paper or dirt—and moisture.
Problems associated with mold
Mother Nature uses mold to decompose plant material. Unfortunately, when present indoors, it can be equally destructive. Mold growth can damage furnishings, such as carpets, sofas and cabinets. Left unchecked, it can also cause serious damage to walls and structural elements in your home.
Mold is present everywhere, and most people tolerate exposure with no adverse effects. If allowed to spread, however, it may cause problems. As molds grow, they release thousands of tiny spores that travel through the air. When inhaled in large enough amounts, these spores may increase the risk of adverse health effects in some people, particularly respiratory problems. A less-common strain of mold called “black mold” can be particularly troublesome to those who are especially sensitive.
Common causes of mold problems
Don’t think that just because you live in a hot, dry climate, your home is not vulnerable to mold. There are many sources of mold problems, from faulty air conditioners to poorly positioned sprinkler systems. Federal standards for energy-efficient home building have even contributed to the problems. By making homes more airtight, construction techniques in newer homes can trap moisture inside.
Here are the most common sources of mold inside the home:
- Leaky roofs or damaged gutters
- Heating or cooling system problems
- Poor drainage next to foundation
- Plumbing leaks from toilets, refrigerators and dishwashers
- Damp basement or crawl space
- Leaking windows or doors
- Steam from shower or cooking
- Indoor exhaust from clothes dryer
What to look for
If you can see or smell mold inside your home, it’s time to take measures. Any area that has sustained past or ongoing water damage should be thoroughly inspected—you may find hidden mold growth in water-damaged walls, floors or ceilings. Walls and floors that are warping or discolored can also indicated moisture problems, as can condensation on windows or walls.
Preventing mold in your home
Since mold is always present, there’ no way to eliminate it completely. You can control indoor mold growth, however, by controlling moisture.
- Remove the source of moisture by fixing nay leaks or other water problems.
- Make sure bathroom fans and dryers are properly vented to the outside. Always use the exhaust fan when cooking or showering.
- Use a dehumidifier or air-conditioning system. Make sure your AC system is well maintained and is the correct size for your home. A faulty AC system can cool the air without removing the water vapor, creating high humidity.
- Insulate your home well to prevent indoor condensation.
- Have your heating, ventilation and cooling systems professionally cleaned annually. Air-duct systems can easily become contaminated with mold.
- Regularly clean moist area such as the bathroom with products that treat mildew.
- Dry-clean, rather than wet-clean, your carpets.
- Avoid carpeting bathrooms and basements.
- Clean any moldy surfaces as soon as you notice them.
Mold is a manageable problem. Unless it is dealt with correctly, however, it will continue to come back. If your mold problem is severe or if you have extensive water damage, it’s best to call an experienced, professional contractor who specializes in mold removal. If you have a mold problem that is isolated to a small area, less than a square yard or so, you can try to resolve it yourself.
Porous items that are hard to clean, such as carpet and drapes, should be discarded. Moldy sheetrock and ceiling tiles can be removed and replaced.
Hard, nonabsorbent surfaces such as glass, plastic and metal can be thoroughly cleaned with soap and water. Allow to dry completely.
For solid items that are semi-porous, such as floors, cabinets and wood furniture, scrub with an ammonia-free cleaner and hot water to remove all mold. Rinse with water and dry thoroughly. After cleaning, apply a mildewcide to kill mold and spores.
When cleaning mold, remember to wear gloves, a mask and eye protection, and work in a well-ventilated area. Never mix cleaner containing bleach and ammonia; this can result in the release of a toxic gas. And be sure to throw away any sponges or rags that you use for cleaning.
A home is the largest investment most people will make in their lifetime, so when it comes time to sell, homeowners often wonder what they can do to get the most return on their investment. Many have the misconception that remodeling is the way to go, but that isn’t always the case. Rather than going all-in on upgrading your home, you should know which home improvements are worth it, and which ones aren’t.
We’ve sifted through the research and come up with a quick list of five home improvements that’ll help buyers fall in love with your home when it comes time to sell.
1. Add a little curb appeal
Curb appeal is critical. As the name suggests, it’s the first thing buyers see when pulling up to the front of any home so it needs to be in nearly pristine condition. Start with the garage door for the most immediate return. According to Remodeling Magazine’s 2018 Cost vs. Value report and Money.com, the cost of updating your worn builder-grade garage door with an upscale steel model is about $3,470, and it’ll boost your home’s value by 98.3 percent of the installation price, which means you’ll lose about $60 when it’s all said and done.
Landscaping can also go along way for a minimal upfront investment. Six rounds of fertilizer and weed control will set you back about $330, but when it comes time to sell, you’ll see an ROI of about $1,000 according to a survey by the National Association of Realtors.
Other improvements you can easily make to your curb appeal include:
- Pressure wash the exterior
- Liven up your front door with a fresh coat of paint
- Replace hardware such as doorknobs and knockers
- Install updated house numbers
- Make your walkways pop with new greenery or flowers
- Plant a succulent garden
- Update your porch lights
- Add a little charm with window flower boxes
- Stage your porch
2. Install hardwood floors
Installing or upgrading hardwood floors is pretty failsafe as most buyers love it. Ninety-nine percent of real estate agents agree that homes with hardwood floors are easier to sell, and 90 percent of agents say that they sell for a higher sale price, according to the National Wood Flooring Association. Similarly, research from the National Association of Realtors shows that 54 percent of homebuyers are willing to shell out extra cash for homes with hardwood.
As for your return on investment, NAR’s 2017 Remodeling Impact Report projects that homes that already have hardwood floors will likely see 100 percent return. On the flip side, installing hardwood flooring pays off almost as well with a 91 percent return on investment. It can cost about $5,500 to install, and it’s projected to add about $5,000 to the home value. These estimates may vary depending on the type of flooring you install.
3. Upgrade your kitchen
According to the National Association of Realtors, real estate agents believe that complete kitchen renovations, kitchen upgrades, and bathroom renovations will add the most resale value to a home (in that order). However, complete kitchen renovations can be costly and unnecessary. In fact, kitchen remodels have some of the worst return on investment stats. Remodeling Magazine’s 2017 Cost Vs. Value report found that a mid-range kitchen remodel cost exceeds its resale value by more than $21,000, and that number more than doubles in an upscale remodel. Rather than spend a ton of cash and weeks (or months) on renovating, put a little elbow grease and a small budget into it.
Instead of doing a full renovation, focus on these smaller updates:
- Organize your pantry
- Use a little Murphy Oil Soap and hot water on all of your cabinets
- Polish cabinets with Howard Feed-In-Wax
- Tighten all hinges
- Clean grout and tiles
- Shine your sinks and hardware until you can see your face in it
- Deep clean your stove
- Give your kitchen a fresh coat of neutral paint
- Update lighting fixtures, and replace light bulbs
- Spring for a new cabinet and door hardware
- Make your countertops look new
- Upgrade your appliances
4. Go green
Today’s younger generations are embracing eco-friendly living, and millennials are leading the pack. According to the National Association of Realtors’ 2018 Home Buyer and Seller Generational Trends Report, millennials make up the largest segment of buyers, holding strong at 34 percent of all buyers.
When it comes to attracting buyers who are willing to pay top dollar, going green makes sense. A Nielson study found that, of more than 30,000 millennials surveyed,66 percent are willing to shell out more cash for conservation-conscious, sustainable products. Depending on where you live, consider installing solar panels, wind turbines, and eco-friendly water systems.
No matter where you live, attic insulation replacement and weather stripping are safe bets. Attic insulation replacement was a top home improvement upgrade last year, and homeowners saw a 107.7 percent return on the investment. Weather stripping, a fairly inexpensive DIY project, costs, on average, about $168 nationally.
5. Create a summer retreat
Homes with pools can fetch a higher selling price if done properly. There are in-ground pools and above-ground pools. To truly add value, you’d want to go with an in-ground pool. It’s a permanent investment that costs more upfront, but above-ground pools don’t really add anything to a home other than a nice personal oasis from hot weather.
Pools cost about $1,000 on average to maintain between the seasonal openings and closings, necessary upkeep and utility bills, according to Houselogic.com and financial consultant Dave Ramsey’s website. Some buyers might not be up for that cost. However, pools can help sell a home especially when you live in a higher-end neighborhood where everyone has pools and in warmer climates like Florida, Arizona or Hawaii.
Ramsey wrote that a well-marketed in-ground pool can boost a home’s value as much as 7 percent, but he stresses the importance of making sure the style of the pool matches the house and surrounding property. Be sure that any pool doesn’t completely consume the outdoor space. Pools that make sense locationally and complement the property are the best. If the pool is just an expensive eyesore, it’s probably better to remove it.
With these upgrades, your home will surely see a higher price tag when you go to sell because, as the numbers show, buyers swoon for an outdoor retreat, a like-new kitchen, classic hardwood flooring, and green upgrades.
Our guest author is Sarah Stilo, the Content Marketing Coordinator for HomeLight, which helps pair homebuyers with agents. They can be found at HomeLight.Com.
Fall is an ideal time to tackle maintenance projects both inside and outside. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Control where the water goes: : Water in the wrong place can do a lot of damage. Start by ensuring that gutters and downspouts are doing their job. (Don’t attempt this talk yourself if you have a two-story house with a steep roof; hire a professional instead.) If your home is surrounded by deciduous trees you may need to clean out your gutters a few times a year, especially in the fall. Check to make sure your gutters are flush with the roof and attached securely, repairing any areas that sag or where the water collects and overflows. Clean out the gutters and downspouts, checking that outlet strainers are in good shape, and are firmly in place. Finally, check that your downspouts direct water away from your house, not straight along the foundation.
If you haven’t already, you may want to consider installing gutter guards. Gutter guards create a barrier- so water can get through to your gutters, but debris cannot, limiting gutter buildup (and the time you spend cleaning out your gutters). There are DIY installation kits available or you can always hire a professional to install a premium system.
If you have a sump pump under your house, now is a good time to test it. Run a hose to be sure draining water travels directly to the pump (dig small trenches if needed), and that the pump removes the water efficiently and expels it well away from the foundation. For more information about how sump pumps work go to howstuffworks.com.
When it comes toleaks, early detection is crucial: Check your roof for leaks. The best opportunity to catch leaks is the first heavy rain after a long dry spell, when roofing materials are contracted. (You can also simulate rain with a gentle spray from a hose.) Check the underside of the roof, looking for moisture on joints or insulation. You can mark these spots on the underside, and then- unless you have a lot of experience, have a roofing specialist locate and repair the leak. Don’t wait for leaks to show up on your ceiling. By then, insulation and sheet rock have been damaged and you could have a mold problem too.
Just say no to rodents: Rodents are determined and opportunistic, and they can do tremendous amounts of property damage (and endanger your family’s health). As temperatures cool, take measures to prevent roof rats and other critters from moving in. Branches that touch your house and overhang your roof are convenient on-ramps for invaders, so trip back branches so they’re at least 4 feet from the house. If you do hear scuttling overhead or discover rodent droppings in your attic, crawl space or basement, take immediate action. The website www.thisoldhouse.com has several helpful articles on the topic.
Maintain your heating and cooling systems: Preventative maintenance is especially crucial for your home’s heating and air-conditioning systems. Fall is a smart time to have your systems checked and tuned up if necessary. Don’t wait for extreme temperatures to arrive, when service companies are slammed with emergency calls. Between tune-ups, keeps your system performing optimally by cleaning and/or replacing air filters as needed.
If you have a wood-burning fireplace, a professional inspection and cleaning will help prevent potentially lethal chimney fires and carbon monoxide poisoning. Even if you don’t use your fireplace often, always keep a supply of dry firewood or sawdust-composite logs so you have a backup heat source in an emergency.
Catch some air: Insulating your home is a cost-efficient investment, whether you’re trying to keep the interior warm in the winter or cool in the summer. Aside from more major improvements like energy-efficient windows and insulation, there are some quick fixes that do-it-yourselfers can tackle. If an exterior door doesn’t have a snug seal when closed, replace the weather stripping; self-adhesive foam stripping is much simpler to install than traditional vinyl stripping. If there is a gap under the door (which can happen over time as a house settles), you may need to realign the door and replace the vinyl door bottom and/or door sweep. Air also sneaks inside through electrical outlets and light switches on exterior walls. Dye-cut foam outlet seals are a quick and inexpensive solution; simply position them behind the wall plates.