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Home Improvement

Floor Cleaners

Keeping your home floors clean is a necessary part of maintaining your home’s appearance. It requires diligence, especially in areas with a lot of foot traffic. Carpets are notoriously difficult to keep clean, but hardwood and laminate flooring must also be maintained to make sure your floors are looking their best. Investing in floor cleaners and floor cleaning equipment will reduce the time and energy you need to spend cleaning your floors and, in general, result in cleaner floors.

Floor Steam Cleaners
The most difficult type of floor to maintain is carpet. Many floor cleaners are specifically designed to clean carpet for this very reason. Floor steam cleaners can remove the typical dirt and grime that gets tracked into your carpet fibers. The process isn’t too difficult but it’s more involved than would be practical for part of your weekly cleaning chores. Most homeowners who know this try to keep dirt off their carpet as much as possible, vacuum weekly or several times a month, and only occasionally break out the steam cleaner. If this is your situation, you might not even want to purchase your own floor steam cleaner and, instead, hire professional carpet cleaners to come in twice a year to revive your carpet.

On the other hand, while floor steam cleaners are most often used for carpets, they can be used for other types of flooring as well. Investing in a high-powered, adjustable steam cleaner will allow you to clean, not only your carpets, but can even get the oil stains out of your garage floor. The major disadvantage of floor steam cleaners is that they require deft handling. Improper use or employing steam cleaners that have fallen into disrepair can damage your floors. Your floors will also have to be protected as they dry after the cleaning, although most steam cleaners will leave floors that dry after 2-6 hours.

Hardwood and Laminate Floor Cleaners
Hardwood and laminate floors are not only classic, elegant installations, they’re also the easiest to maintain and clean. The first, big step you can do is simply to sweep or vacuum the floor regularly—although if you’re vacuuming, use a soft brush extension. There are expensive floor cleaners out there, but vinegar and water can work just as well on laminate flooring. Whatever you use, try the cleaning solution on a small, inconspicuous area the first time before proceeding to the rest of the floor. If you’re in doubt, the flooring manufacturer is usually the best source of advice. If they try to sell you an expensive cleaning product, however, watch out for a scam. These cleaning products are often unnecessary.

Hardwood floors usually require nothing more than water, unless your hardwood has been stained. The biggest danger with hardwood flooring is moisture damage, so use the water or cleaning solution as sparingly as possible when cleaning your floor.

The First Step of Floor Cleaning is Choosing Your Floor
One of the most common mistakes in home improvement is becoming obsessed with the look of a new home improvement installation. As infatuated as you might be with your new home or home remodel, the ability to maintain that look is probably more important in the long run. Pick a floor that you can afford, but also one you can afford to maintain. This may mean actually splurging on your initial floor installation, but can be worth it in the long run. Carpet is a cheap floor covering, but your floors may have to be re-carpeted several times over in the same lifespan as a hardwood or laminate floor. In fact, it may be worth it to take out a small homeowner’s loan to ensure a floor that won’t require further financial investments down the road.

Details Make Home Offices Work

These days, more and more people are taking the bold step of doing at least part of their job at home. A 30-second commute has a lot of appeal, but increasingly, people are opting to work at home in order to create a more humane schedule that allows for more flexibility to attend to family joys and responsibilities. As anyone who has been down this road can tell you, however, working at home has its down side as well. By planning wisely and upgrading appropriately, you can make your home office an excellent work environment where you will be comfortable as well as motivated.

Home Offices that Fit Your Lifestyle and Work Habits
Many people prefer to locate their offices away from the rest of their living space. Attics, basements, and rooms over detached garages are ideal places to locate your residential office. Parents, however, may be in the unenviable position of needing to work in their office while monitoring the kids. Moreover, not all home offices are for at-home employment. Many people use office spaces for writing, reading, musical composition, etc. Hiring an interior designer with specific experience with residential office spaces—and rates to match this minimalist space—can be invaluable in designing the right space for your needs.

Custom Desks, Chairs and Furniture
You might be able to find “acceptable” office desks and chairs from your local furniture store, but your home office is an investment. Many people use their offices every day, or nearly every day. To maximize productivity and minimize stress, joint pain, and poor posture, you may want to splurge on a custom-built desk and ergonomic office chair. Indeed, a finish carpenter can deliver all sorts of custom amenities that aren’t symptoms of indulgence but smart investments for one of the most productive areas of your home and your work life.

Design a Home Office Environment for Visitors
If there is any chance that you will have visits from colleagues, your boss, vendors, subordinates, partners, clients, or others, you must pay special attention to the kind of statement your work environment makes. Whenever possible, have a separate outside entrance so that visitors don’t have to traipse through private family spaces to get to your office. It is very difficult to project a sense of professionalism when you have to pick up toys or laundry en route to your meeting. In most traditional office environments, you have the use of a conference room for meetings. But if your work area stays neat and has room for another table, you may be able to create your own mini-conference area.

Ideally, the office area should have its own bathroom that is off limits to family members. This makes it easy to keep it especially clean and free of the clutter that inhabits the typical domestic bathroom. If you can’t swing a separate bathroom, consider designating one of the family bathrooms for office use. You might want to add additional storage in the bathroom to minimize clutter and make it easier to keep clean.

Wiring and Communication Needs
It usually makes sense to have at least one separate phone line exclusively for your office. If you use the Internet, faxes, or e-mail extensively, additional lines are a good idea. A separate business line allows you to use a professional voicemail or answering machine message. It also gives you the option of using call-forwarding if you occasionally work from another location. A designated business line also makes it easier to keep youngsters from intercepting your important business calls. And, at the end of the day, you can leave the business line to the answering machine or voicemail without missing calls from friends and family.

Another common issue with home offices is electrical power. Copiers, laser printers, and computers use a lot of juice. Check with an electrician about adding a couple of circuits so that you don’t have to worry about tripping the circuit-breaker every time you make a photocopy. More than convenience, you also need to hire a qualified electrician for safety. Many office spaces weren’t originally designed to handle any sizable load-bearing circuits and advanced electrical devices.

Don’t Forget Home Office Ground Rules!
No matter how well designed your workspace is, you will have to establish basic ground rules for you, your family, and even visitors. If you find yourself making continual raids on the refrigerator, you may need to establish a rule for yourself that limits trips to the kitchen to meal times. A separate business phone line isn’t much use if family members routinely turn to it when the main family line is tied up, and your “conference room” won’t serve its purpose if it becomes a hide-away for empty boxes, half-finished puzzles and spare camping equipment!

Small Space Remodeling

Most of us wish that our homes were larger, but the obvious solutions like building an addition or moving to a bigger place are simply not an option in many cases due to budget restraints. There are, however, some excellent small space solutions out there that can either physically increase your living space inexpensively, or at least give an area the appearance of being bigger.

Making Small Spaces Look Bigger

For many people, the most cost-effective remodeling ideas are focused on increasing living space without increasing the size of the home. Sound impossible? It’s not. One way to make small spaces look bigger is to better integrate indoor and outdoor living areas. In many homes, especially those that are a decade old or more, the indoor and outdoor areas are completely cut off from each other, but by blurring the line between inside and outside, you can give the feel of more space without actually having to add on.

Small Room Ideas: Windows and Glass Doors

Architects and designers have understood for years that, when creating physical space is just not practical, the illusion of more space can really go a long way. If you take a 10 ft. x 15 ft. room with windows and another without and ask people who’ve just been in both rooms, “Which room was larger?”, nearly everyone will say the one with windows. Of course it isn’t larger, it just feels larger. So, the simplest way to combine indoor and outdoor spaces is to add or enlarge windows. The bigger the window, the greater the feel of added space. A similar effect can be achieved with groups of windows. If you take an existing window and add sidelights (vertical windows flanking either side) or a semicircular top light, you can really open up and brighten a room.

Sliding glass patio doors are a small space solution that will enhance the look of a room and provide the option of physically connecting the inside with the outdoors, as well. Glass doors not only increase the feeling of space, they also allow you to move freely into the outside; add an awning or even some patio furniture and you’ll essentially be expanding the living space of your home. When you find yourself heading outside to open the mail or relax with a glass of iced tea, you’ll begin to fully appreciate the benefits of integrating the spaces.

Small Room Ideas: Painting

Proper color choice is another tool in making a small room look bigger. Lighter colors open a space up and darker colors pull a space in, so if you’re dealing with an already small space, dark paint or dark stained wood paneling are your enemies. While painting a solid color on walls or ceilings can make a difference in how big a room feels, some folks have combined this small space solution with the openness provided by windows by actually painting a large window on the wall. It sounds a bit silly, but you’d really be amazed at how much bigger a room feels with even a faux window. While your painted window won’t have all of the same benefits of a real one, faux windows offer one very interesting perk: the view from them isn’t limited to your location. If you want a painted window to overlook the Eiffel Tower, the Great Pyramids, or even a sunset from a memorable vacation, it is well within your reach.

Small Room Ideas: Furniture

One of the biggest factors in making a small room look bigger is the furniture you choose. Putting a full-sized couch in a cramped space only serves to make the room less navigable; opting for a loveseat frees up space and allows you more room to breathe. Storage is a must in small rooms, but a busy bookshelf can scream clutter; choosing end-tables, coffee tables, and foot rests that also provide storage space kills two birds with one stone. For a more permanent solution, consider custom made built-in furniture; it’s expensive, but there’s simply no better space saver on the market.

Most of all, remember that the most effective small space solution is good planning. Almost any room can be made to function better if it is planned out before it gets outfitted, and in a small space, getting the most from what you’ve got is essential. If you’re working on a small space that is new to you, keep it empty until you know exactly how everything should fit together; if you’re dealing with an existing small space, clearing it out completely will give you clean palette and a better idea of what options are possible. A good interior decorator or designer can be very beneficial, but if you take your time and consider your choices carefully, just about every homeowner can come up with a few small space solutions that will fit perfectly with his or her tastes!

Bedroom Furniture for Looks and Function

Few additions to your bedroom define the space more than the bedroom furniture set you purchase. Bedroom furniture is something that, when chosen wisely, gives your bedroom character and compliments your personality and tastes. Of course, choosing the right furniture can also make a huge difference when it comes to maximizing space usage and storage, so it’s important to take into account both your needs and desires before you purchase a new bedroom furniture set.

Basic Bedroom Design
The right bedroom design for you varies depending on what you use your bedroom for. Is just a place where you sleep away the night? In that case focus on the bed and little else. If you’re like most homeowners, however, the bedroom has become a multi-purpose space. Avid readers probably will want to incorporate a nightstand and bookshelves into their design plan, while movie buffs and television addicts should explore television wall mounts or T.V. stands. Fashion devotees probably need to consider larger clothes storage needs, and purchase the appropriate wardrobes, dressers, and other storage solutions. Before you start shopping, sit down and make a list of what your bedroom is used for and look for furniture that compliments that.

What Bedroom Furniture Do You Need (And What Do You Not?)
Some homeowners have the luxury of spacious bedrooms that can accommodate just about any furniture choices they make. For the rest of us, it’s important to be realistic about weighing needs and desires. Is a king sized bed the best choice, or would a queen sized bed allow for that much needed second dresser? Sure, two nightstands add a touch of symmetry to any bedroom, but would purchasing just one free up space and give your bedroom a more open and inviting feel? And that antique wardrobe is a stunning piece, but keep in mind it’s going to take up most of an entire wall. If it’s the perfect fit, go for it. But something a little smaller and compact might be a better choice if you’re pressed for space.

Think Space and Storage
By now you’ve probably noticed a theme coming through here: even the most beautiful bedroom furniture set can make a room feel cramped and uncomfortable if it’s overdone. The best way to avoid this is to look for furniture solutions that provide both looks and storage. Platform beds, for example, offer ample storage space underneath either in open space or built in drawers. A shoulder height lingerie chest provides more storage space in the same area than a delicate Queen Anne style dresser. And a nightstand with drawers and cabinets is always a better choice than a small end table. Generally when it comes to bedroom design, more storage in less space is the way to go. It will mean you’ll be able to enjoy the furniture you do have more, and because you’ll have ample storage space for your needs, you won’t be constantly fighting the clutter and inconvenience that is so common when you run out of space to put all your stuff.

Take Advantage of Expert Advice
When it comes to designing the perfect bedroom for you, there are two resources you’d be remiss not to look into. The first is a good interior decorator. They are more than skilled in optimizing space and beautifying rooms at the same time, and you’d be amazed how valuable their services can be. The second is a good custom furniture builder. If you have the means, you’ll be getting exactly the look you want in your bedroom furniture, it will be built to last (unlike so much of the stock furniture available to customers at retail outlets), and it can be built specifically for your needs. Both professionals and their services are well worth the extra investment in the end.

Removing Pet Odor

If your home has pet odor problems, you’re in for one of the toughest odor removal projects known to man. That doesn’t mean you should give up hope. It just means that depending on the nature of the odor, and the material, this isn’t going to be an easy task.

General Pet Odor Removal
If the extent of your pet odor problem is just a general pet smell (not urine), you’ve just encountered a best-case-scenario when it comes to pet odor removal. It’s not pleasant, and it’s still going to take some work to remove the odor from your home, but there are a number of pet odor removal solutions out there to take advantage of.Clean, Clean, Clean
The first step is the most obvious. Clean any affected areas as thoroughly as possible. That doesn’t mean a quick vacuum or running over your hardwood with a Swiffer. Pet odor removal is only effective if you give affected areas a good, deep cleaning. Scrub and mop hard surfaces as thoroughly as possible, and think about using a vinegar or baking soda solution as you do so. Both are rumored to work wonders when it comes to removing pet smells. And if you’re dealing with pet odor removal from carpeting, hire a professional. Make sure they use the hot water extraction method (also known as “steam cleaning”), since it provides the deepest clean, and ask if they use a truck mounted unit. These units do a much better job of getting down into the carpet pile, where much of the pet smell resides, than other professional carpet cleaning techniques, or any homeowner operated unit you can rent.If Your Home Smells Like More Than a Wet Dog . . .
If your specific issue is trying to remove pet urine odor, you’re in for another treat altogether. Pet urine odor is one of the most difficult smells to remove from any surface, and at times requires you remove the flooring altogether, and replace it, if none of the less substantial solutions do the trick. Still, it can be done. Here’s how.

Use an Enzymatic Based Pet Urine Removal Solution
About the only proven way to remove the smell of pet urine from your flooring is to purchase an enzymatic based cleaner from your local pet supply store. Don’t use this like carpet shampoo, however.

You need to soak the affected area thoroughly, and allow the solution a long time to dry, whether you have carpet, wood floors, or masonry flooring. No fans or open windows are needed here. In fact, it’s a good idea to place a piece of cardboard over the affected area to slow down evaporation. The solution works to eat away at the natural enzymes that are causing the odor in the first place, and they need time to do their work. If after all this, you still have pet odor problems, you’re going to need to take more drastic measures. With carpeting, you’ll probably need to replace it. And if the pet urine has made it into the subfloor, you may have to replace that as well. The same goes for wood flooring. It can be a timely, and costly, project. But when compared to living with the smell of pet urine, it’s often worth the trouble.

Recession-Resistant Renovations

Upgrade Siding
When your siding has seen better days, upgrading it just might be one of the best investments you can make for your home, no matter what the economic climate. Since siding functions as a shield for the materials it covers, the better siding you have, the longer those materials are likely to last. Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value report revealed that installing fiber-cement siding generally recovers over 87% of construction costs in added resale value. This makes upgrading from vinyl or aluminum to fiber-cement the best investment nationwide when it comes to recouping your costs!

Bathroom Enhancements
Though often the smallest rooms in the house, your bathroom can have a dramatic impact on your day-to-day life. Bathrooms also pack quite a punch when it comes time to put your property on the market, and remodeling your bathroom can mean the difference between a home that’s sold quickly and one that stays on the market for years.

The average cost of a bathroom remodel over the last quarter was around $10,200. Out of a pool of 3,000 homeowners who found their bathroom contractors through SM, 9 out of 10 were not only pleased with their project, but would recommend it to others. When you think of the money and resources that get wasted by leaky pipes, dripping faucets, inefficient shower heads and obsolete toilets and, add the hassle of waiting for mirrors to clear up, waiting for hot water (or running out too soon) and dealing with water pressure problems it’s easy to see why so many folks are so happy with their new bathrooms!

Inspections
While not technically a renovation, an inspection is a sound enough investment in shaky economic times that we had to include it in this list. The beauty of an inspection lies not in what it does for your property, but what it prevents. For instance, a chimney cleaning will often cost around $310, where a chimney fire can cost you thousands in property damage. Inspections are available for many of your home’s systems (roofing, foundation, waterproofing, etc.) and can either identify small problems before they become large or give you peace of mind that your home is in good shape!

Enhance Flooring
Few things can make a room shine like good flooring. Fortunately, flooring upgrades are also an excellent investment in just about any home. One of the nice things about replacing a floor with a more durable material is that you can really get your money’s worth. For instance, while carpet remains the least costly flooring material, the National Home Builder’s Association puts its life expectancy at 8 to 10 years “with appropriate maintenance and normal foot traffic.” Though definitely more costly, natural hardwood’s life expectancy is “100 years or more.” So, by upgrading, you might be spending a little more in the short term, but you can rest easy knowing that you (or even the next owners of your property) won’t have to bear the expense of flooring replacement!

Small Kitchen Remodels
In much the same way as bringing a bathroom up to par is almost always a good investment, minor kitchen improvements are generally a safe bet. Unfortunately, going overboard during a kitchen remodel is common, and many folks end up spending way more than they planned before the job is finished. To keep your investment budget-friendly, focus on the things that really need attention, and leave the elements of the room that are functioning just fine intact.

General Guidelines for Recession-Proof Remodeling
During uncertain economic times, the adage “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it” is certainly appropriate in many cases. However, to be completely accurate, you may want to add something to the effect of “If it’s slightly broken, fix it now.” “If it’s working fine, but it’s costing you plenty to operate, get a better model” might be another good phrase to live by. Basically, any remodeling project runs the risk of being more trouble than it is worth, but, in a nutshell, hard times call for projects that will not only make your property look better, but will help it function more efficiently for years to come!

Could your House be Making you Fatter?

Wouldn’t it be great if you could keep your body fit by simply designing your home properly? While choosing a certain style of counter or a particular color of paint for your walls might not lower your blood pressure or help you fit in your prom dress again, it doesn’t seem too far fetched for there to be a few common threads that are often present in homes of healthy people but absent in homes of less healthy folks. To test this theory, we looked at some stats from HomeAdvisor.com (a nationwide resource matching homeowners to contractors in their area) and compared the types of home improvement projects preferred in “healthy” cities to those that are more common in less healthy areas. Here’s what we found!

Projects “Healthy” Cities Prefer
According to Men’s Fitness Magazine, Minneapolis, Albuquerque, and Denver are all pretty high on the healthy city list. So, what projects do homeowners in these areas enter most? Appliance repair is extremely popular in each of these cities, as is hiring a handyman for multiple small tasks. Landscaping and lawn care seem to be a priority in all three cities, too.

Common Projects in America’s Least Healthy Cities
Few will be surprised to know that Men’s Fitness voted Las Vegas as the least healthy city (or that, once again, Texas kills the competition, sporting 6 of America’s top 10 least fit cities). What is surprising, however, is that in these “unhealthy” cities, homeowners opt for nearly the exact same projects that are found in the healthy cities. Since so many cities on the second list are in the south and southwest, it’s no shock that each boasts a high amount of requests to install solar panels and to repair air conditioning, however, other than these two tasks, the lists of what projects are most common is quite similar to those of their healthier counterparts.

Where to Spot the Real Differences
While looking at lists of total numbers of requests in healthy and unhealthy cities hasn’t really turned up much, one big statistic rears its head when you start examining what types of projects are becoming more popular. San Antonio, Dallas, and Houston have each seen some pretty dramatic increases in the popularity of TV wall mounting and/or home theater accessory repair. According to HomeAdvisor statistics, homeowners in these cities have been calling for TV services sometimes 10 or even 20 times more often per month than what was recorded last year!

Other Conclusions
It seems as though, no matter where you go in America (or how rotund the people in your neighborhood are), the average homeowner tends to focus mostly on small home improvement tasks like appliance repair, plumbing fixture repair or replacement, or shingle repair. The absence of large, expensive projects makes sense, of course considering the current economic environment. To be sure, homeowners in healthy cities and unhealthy cities have far more in common with each other than they do with themselves 6 years ago, when some of the most common tasks HomeAdvisor processed were building water docks, installing central air conditioning, and installing radiant heating panels and flooring. Homeowners (both big and small) seem to be focusing on repairs rather than replacements and increasing the function of what they already have rather than building something new; and while following this trend might not help you lose 15 pounds, it could certainly assist in keeping your finances healthy!

Keeping Room as Center for Your Home Life

Back in the Colonial period of American history, the chores and tasks that went into everyday life were something that was shared among family members. Families would gather together to cook, clean, and do laundry. Colonial architecture reflected this lifestyle, through a common area called a “keeping room” that connected to the kitchen and was situated at the center of the house. It was a place where families could gather, work, talk, and laugh.

Keeping rooms disappeared in the 20th century as Americans became more affluent, housework became automated, and people became more private. But these days, the keeping room is making a comeback in home design, fueled by families’ desire for a place where they can reconnect in the midst of their busy, hectic lives.

Keeping Room Design
There are as many keeping room designs as there are individual tastes. A common factor is that most keeping rooms combine the kitchen with a living area in a setting that is less formal than a parlor or living room. The features of your particular keeping room design should reflect your lifestyle. For example:

  • The Family and Business Center: For families in which one or more spouse works at home, it often makes sense to move features such as a desk or computer armoire into the keeping room. A telephone, fax, and photocopier might even adorn your space. This way, spending weekend hours on a last-minute report or work project doesn’t need to keep you from also spending time with the kids. For their part, children need computer access more and more often these days in order to complete their homework. This is another way in which a business-oriented keeping room can accommodate the working needs of the entire family.
  • The Entertainment Center: Many families use the keeping room as a place to gather to watch television and movies together. In this case, the room might incorporate couches, a big-screen, and surround sound. And you can make popcorn without missing a scene.
  • The Oasis: On the other hand, the bombardment of modern technology and the ever-expanding work week may have you looking for a place where you can leave work behind and just enjoy the lost art of conversation. In this case, your keeping room might contain comfortable couches and chairs, a dinner table, and perhaps the supplies for a few chosen hobbies that you can enjoy as a family. The keeping room can also be a great place to entertain guests, as you can cook or mix drinks without losing contact.

Once you’ve determined the function of your keeping room, you can begin to think about form. Traditionalists may want to stick with a country/colonial theme, in keeping with the room’s roots, but if this isn’t your style, you can go with anything from rustic to ultra-modern. You will find that your keeping room will be a place where the whole family spends lots of time, so be sure to choose d?cor that makes you comfortable.

Thanksgiving Home Maintenance

If you’re not already set on hitting the shopping mall during Thanksgiving weekend, you might think about taking a look around your home. As busy as this time of year can be, neglecting home maintenance just before your friends and family arrive is a recipe for embarrassment. If you don’t inspect your home now, December is almost always a lost cause. Whether you’re broiling, basting or baking this Thanksgiving, here are a few ideas to get you started on your maintenance menu and plans for your budgetary leftovers.

1. Turkey and Stuffing: Furniture and Beds

If you have less-than-comfortable furniture, the turkey’s tryptophan is going to make you feel like you’re sitting on a bird’s rump. Lumpy, unforgiving or poorly designed is going to seriously hamper guests’ ability to doze and drool, as the Pilgrims intended. Once broken in, furniture can actually become more comfortable but left to age too long, and you get a filthy, broken-down safety hazard—especially after grandpa has gone back for his third plate. For the bedroom, you might want to think about platform beds. They will modernize your bedroom decorating and provide incredible opportunity to increase your bedroom storage.

2. Mashed Potatoes and Gravy: Insulation

The old family recipe for mashed potatoes may have worked in years past, but it’s a good idea to look at your utility bills and your home’s insulation. Gravy may be a necessity for mashed potatoes, but the moisture of roof or plumbing leaks will cause bigger problems than lumpy insulation. If you can’t afford the cost of insulation, at the very least make sure your home is airtight this winter. Check windows, doors and cracks in your walls for air leakage. If nothing else, you may need to install caulk or weather-stripping. You can call this the instant-mashed-potato version of insulating.

Just as russet potatoes and fat-free buttermilk can make for healthier mashed potatoes, there are healthier insulation choices. Cotton insulation, for example, is not only made from recycled denim, but it also doesn’t use glass fibers that cause skin and respiratory irritation, nor does it use formaldehyde, which can leach into your home.

3. Green Bean Casserole: Energy-Efficient Appliances

Whether it’s salad, creamed spinach or green bean casserole, every Thanksgiving dinner needs something green. For your home’s makeup, green should be a dominate theme. If you haven’t replaced your major appliances in the last five to 10 years, chances are your home is needlessly burning through cash. It’s hard to justify replacing an appliance until it goes kaput, but it’s a good idea to look around now, before the situation becomes urgent.

To maximize energy efficiency and value, look for concrete ratings and performance standards. Looking at ENERGY STAR-rated appliances is a good start. Washing machines save you between 38 and 55 percent on water (and water heating) consumption. For dishwashers, you stand to save 25 percent on water and heating. For heating and cooling, which is half of your home’s energy consumption, ENERGY STAR air conditioners and furnaces can save you about 20 percent over most models and even more over older units. Overall, these appliances can save you $1,000 or more every year.

4. Cranberry Sauce: Stain Removal

There are dozens of tricks, home and commercial remedies, but many stains—including cranberry sauce—can be a lost cause to remove from carpet and upholstery. As frustrating as stains can be, too many homeowners think the only reasonable course of action is to rearrange the furniture to cover the carpet or haul stained couches out to the curb. The truth is you probably have more options than you think. Even if you don’t have spare carpet runs, manufacturers may still be producing your carpet and repair professionals have more than one trick up their sleeves. The average cost of carpet repair is $220, and you can hire professionals to come in to do the job quickly and efficiently so you can focus on other to-do list items.

5. Pumpkin Pie: Cleaning Services

Pumpkin pie is meant to be savored without the dread of a mountain of dirty dishes. If you’re playing host this Thanksgiving, you probably aren’t going to be thrilled with the house cleaning that hits full-force that night and the next morning. By planning ahead and scheduling maid service, you can optimize your time management, and when you tell guests not to worry about helping you clean up, you can mean it. You can probably find a maid service to clean your kitchen and living area for around $200.

This is only a few of the more popular home maintenance projects. The point is to use this last breath before the holiday season crush truly arrives and evaluate what your home needs to make it through the winter. Both you and your home will be jollier for the attention.

Formal Dining Rooms: 5 Makeover Tips

Have you ever noticed there’s always one room in the house that never gets used? Why is that? Typically it’s because of one of two reasons: 1) nobody knows exactly what to do with the space, or 2) the area feels too stuffy and impersonal. These are usually the main problems with formal dining rooms. Either they seem unfinished and cold, or they look so grand it feels like a “No Trespassing” sign should be hung in the doorway. This is why these rooms are typically reserved for fancy dinner parties or the occasional holiday meal. Except usually these rooms contain the most expensive and elegant items in the house, so why let these go to waste? Here are a few makeover tips that you can use to make this space feel more comfortable.

Give and Take: An easy way to quickly transform a formal dining room into something more casual is to add and subtract some accessories. Invest in mirrors to open up the space a little and add more reflective light. Or install window treatments made from lighter, more colorful material for $250 to $390. Possibly remove a few overbearing objects from the room (a hutch, a bookcase, etc.) to make it feel less cluttered. You still want everything to feel glamorous, but by removing a couple of heavier accessories and adding a couple of lighter focal points, the room may feel more welcoming and less cramped.

Delights of the Round Table: A lot of formal dining room furniture is polished, oversized, and comes with long, sharp edges. Although this certainly makes everything sophisticated, it can also create a harsh and imposing tone to the room. When in the market for a new table, you may want to consider investing in a round tabletop. As opposed to a long rectangular table, a circular design allows everybody to look into each others’ eyes while they eat, making the environment more cozy and intimate. Also, by choosing a less polished wood you can make your furnishings feel less intimidating and more accessible to guests.

Sit Down, Relax: Formal dining room furniture tends to be dark and upholstered, which can make the area look gloomy and old-fashioned. Instead, why not choose a lighter shade of wood, thereby making the room more casual and relaxed? Also, instead of using the standard silk material for your chairs, upholster your furnishing in something less luxurious. Not only will this save you money, it will also let your guests feel less anxious to sit down at the table for fear of “messing up your nice things.”

Informal Fixtures: Many formal dining rooms come with fancy light fixtures, usually in the form of chandeliers. However, these light fixtures tend to be expensive and sometimes are unable to provide adequate lighting for the room. Therefore, skip the chandelier and instead add other light sources to the space. Add a lamp in the corner or install wall fixtures. Possibly use candlelight throughout the room for a more elegant look by installing candle wall sconces. In any case, you don’t have to have an elaborate light fixture to keep the room feeling warm and decorative.

Mix-it-up: Most importantly, if you already have formal dining room furniture or possibly can’t afford to buy an entire new set, the best way to decorate the room is to mix and match. Use a traditional table with modern chairs. Use conventional dinnerware with funky place mats. There lots of creative solutions that won’t cost you an arm and a leg but will help a room feel more welcoming. For instance, why use a china hutch for china. You hardly ever use the fancy stuff anyway, so why not use the hutch for an impromptu bookcase or to store other knick-knacks. Personalizing a formal dining room is the most important step in make the space feel safe, inviting, and whole.

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