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Energy Efficient Methods For Beating the Heat

May 3, 2010

Air conditioning is expensive, both in terms of actual out of pocket energy costs, and the environmental impact that it has on the natural world around us. However many people forget that there was an age before the invention of this modern cooling wonder. In days gone by people actually had to use a little bit of strategy, cunning, and even common sense to decorate their homes in such a way that they remained comfortable. In an age where an energy crisis is always looming on the horizon, and environmental catastrophe seem more and more eminent, it may be time to revisit some of the more natural home cooling methods that our ancestors used.

The easiest way to keep your home cool is to simply limit the amount of sunlight that comes streaming in during the day. The sun is the most powerful heating agent on the planet, and when it’s angled right to pass right through a rooms windows, it can cause a space to warm up pretty quickly.

Luckily, this can be easily controlled using heavy curtains, or blinds, that are thick enough to block out the majority of the suns intensity. Depending on the temperature, and the nature of the day, you can control the amount of heat the sun lends to the space, thus giving you an energy efficient way to control the temperature in the room.

Another inexpensive and environmentally friendly way to keep things cool is with fans. The initial investment in purchasing a fan is far less than for an air conditioner, and just one of them can lower the temperature in a room by 7-10 degrees. Also, these devices are so energy efficient that even the oldest and most outdated fan, left running 12 hours a day every day for a month, would only end up costing about ten dollars in electricity.

Ceiling fans are the most efficient models, but if you don’t already have one in the space they can require an elaborate installation process. A good alternative are automatically swiveling floor fans, which will sweep back and forth circulating the air throughout the environment, and distributing cool air evenly throughout the space.

Another source of unwanted heat in the home is your electronics. Televisions, stereos, and computers all give off heat, and while it’s not a huge amount, it can add up over time. Light bulbs however are the worst culprits. They give off more than their share of heat, and what’s worse is that the light they shine tends to make a space feel warmer than it actually is.

A great way to create the illusion of coolness is to shut off bright, overhead lighting, and let an environment remain bathed in soft, ambient illumination. A quiet glow, with plenty of shadows, will make a room feel perceptibly cooler than it actually is. Lava lamps, novelty lighting, and onyx lamps are all great choices for this.

Another important factor in keeping your home cool in a cost effective and energy efficient manner is basic insulation. The better insulated your house is, the less heat will get in, and the less cool air will get out.

This is especially true of insulation in the attic, because the constant force of the sun beating down on the roof can cause that location to get quite hot. This heat can then translate down into the rest of your home, unless you have insulation in place to stop it in its tracks.

Keeping your home cool in the summer doesn’t have to just be about throwing money at the problem. It can also be an exercise in energy efficiency and strategic thinking. By using these tricks, you will be able to keep your monthly energy bill low, while also helping to preserve the planets natural resources.

Increase Property Value with a Backyard Shed

April 25, 2010

Sequoia - 12 x 12 Storage Building With Floor Kit

Are you considering building a backyard shed but just not sure if it’s the right decision? There are many reasons to add a shed to your backyard. It can give you the extra storage space you need, help you clean up your backyard and even give you a place to store items from inside your home. Another great reason to put a shed in your backyard is because it can help to increase the value of your property.

Backyard sheds come in a variety of prices depending on which type of building you decide to purchase. Small storage sheds can be very affordable while wrought iron gazebos type sheds can be extremely expensive. It all depends on what you want and how much money you plan to invest in your storage building.

Any backyard shed can add value to your home but the more money you put into the building the more value it’ll bring. That’s why it’s important for you to put some thought and planning into the type of shed you want before you buy it. For instance, if you decide to buy a shed already made, invest in one with good quality materials that will last.

Handy Home Products Mackinaw - 12' x 12' Timber Building

If you choose to build your own, take the time to do it the right way. For example, plan out everything in advance. Know where you want to put the shed, level out the land and only use quality materials when building a storage shed. This will all help to ensure that you end up with a good quality building that will help to increase the value of your property.

Once you have the shed set up and ready to use, take the time to keep the maintenance up and this will help to keep it in good shape. If it gets run down and old looking, this will take away from the value of the building. Over time, the storage shed roof may need to be replaced or part of the flooring. The more time you invest in the shed the more value it’ll bring to your property.

Decorating Ideas for Tiny Bathrooms

January 14, 2010

Tiny spaces are the most difficult to decorate. That is because they simply don’t have any room for frivolous pieces. This is especially true in environments like the bathroom, where every inch of space has to be turned to serve a functional purpose. Here you will have to use creativity and a discerning eye, to find niches where attractive items can be fit, while also turning more practical items into decorations themselves.

While all of the horizontal surfaces in a bathroom have to be dedicated to the business of personal hygiene, the vertical surfaces, namely the walls, are open for decorative purposes. Think of the walls as canvases for your artistic endeavors. Fill them with beautiful portraits, pictures, wall clocks, or posters. However do so with caution, a bathroom is a place of water, heat, and steam. Make certain that anything you place on the walls of this space is immune to damage from these effects.

Solid wrought iron wall hangings and hardwood pieces protected by a chemical finishing agent should be fine. You can also get posters or portraits with glass panel frameworks which can seal them away from moisture and heat damage. However due to the volatile nature of the air in here, it is best not to place expensive items, or irreplaceable pieces in here.

Aside from dressing the walls, there are many functional items which can be coordinated to create an attractive look in this space. Rugs will keep your feat warm on cold winter mornings. These can be purchased in colors designed to match the towels, wash clothes, and even the shower curtain of the space. By paying attention to style when choosing practical pieces, you can inject the room with beauty without taking up any space at all.

Toilet seat covers are a nice way to dress up what is an otherwise unseemly object, and coordinate it with the other colors in the room. Waste baskets are another unsavory item that can, nevertheless be used as part of your decorating tool kit.

You should also look to smaller items for color coordination. Boxes can be purchased for hand soaps, toothbrush holders can be matched to soap dishes, there are a million tiny ways you can add beauty to your everyday bathroom routines.

One of the best ways to increase the effectiveness of these efforts is to coordinate everything. If all of the colors of all of your accessories match up, the patterns complimenting one another then the room will take on a distinct personality that will be inherent in its bones.

If all else fails and you are still looking for ways to beautify this space, you may have to consider spending a little money, and switching out the inherent structures in the space. Depending on how elaborate you want to get, you can replace mirrors, bath and sink hardware, toilets, even your entire vanity in order to customize the look of the space. There are a variety of space saving designs which can be implemented quite effectively in a smaller bathroom setting.

A tiny bathroom can be a chore to decorate. You should use the walls effectively as canvases, and then try to create a decorative theme with the various practical accessories that you need in the bathroom anyways. In this way you can control the look and feel of even the smallest space.

Efficient Ways to Heat Your Home

January 11, 2010

Right now heating costs remain steady. However there is always the threat of another economic shift driving the price of heating oil and gas through the roof. That is why you should take steps now, to ensure that your home is energy efficient, so that you get the full use out of every dollar you spend to keep the place toasty.

Not sure about where to start? Hire an expert to conduct an energy audit of your home. These experts will start by measuring the efficiency of your heat pump or furnace, and examine your homes interior, and exterior to see just where cold air is entering your home. Even if your home was built relatively recently, you may be surprised to find out about the number of ways you can save on heating costs.

Many homes have gaps between their stone foundations and wooden frameworks. These gaps can create an effect that is similar to leaving a window partially open in the middle of winter. To seal these cracks, use spray foam insulation, a very cheap fix to a very expensive problem. (You can buy this product for $5 to $10 a can at a local home improvement or hardware store.)

Similar gaps often exist between the roofing and wooden framework of your house. Sealing these can be a little trickier, especially if you have heating duct-work that runs through the attic or upper story of your house. You may also find small gaps between heating ducts, and fixing these may cost you around $20.

Replacing the furnace may also be necessary, although a good tune-up may suffice to get a few more years out of a newer model. Although this can be expensive, you’ll soon find yourself glad you did – and the energy tax breaks provided by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) may make this upgrade even more affordable!

If your hot water heater is more than 7-10 years old, consider replacing it. If it is a newer model, and is located in a cooler part of your house or an area that is frequently exposed to the cold, consider using an insulating jacket to keep the water hot while using less energy.

If your home is older, or has not been renovated, you may need to install energy-efficient windows and doors, or even renovate the exterior of your home to seal off the cold that has been draining your home’s furnace – and your bank account. This can be a lot more expensive than any other improvement we’ve suggested, but in the long run, the savings will be well worth your while.

Even if your heating costs are relatively low, take an afternoon to pinpoint areas of your house that have air leaks or use more energy than necessary. The extra savings will be well worth the hours you spend, and if you ever decide it’s time to sell your home, you’ll be very glad you did take the time for an energy audit! It’s a small price to pay for big savings.

The Importance of Color in the Bedroom

July 29, 2009

The bedroom is an environment which is particularly important for your psychological health and well being. The place where you both relax into sleep, and awaken to face the world, the bedroom has a symbolic significance in our lives. The colors that you choose for this space can affect your mood and outlook throughout the entire day. By contemplating the meaning and effect of various hues you can to some extent control this environment, creating a haven that cradles your psychological needs in whatever manner necessary.

One of the best ways to use color in a bedroom is to set a tone for the energy of the space. If you are a lethargic person, that finds it difficult to get going in the morning, then you may want to use bright and exciting colors in the bedroom. When you wake up the first thing you see will be stimulating tones, coming at you from the entire environment, instantly engaging your cognitive functions. In this way you can get a positive and vigorous start to your day, the second your eye lids crack.

If on the other hand you are an excitable person, that finds it difficult to fall asleep at night you might want to take a different approach, choosing softer, more soothing colors and tones for the space. Darker colors will tend to elicit calmer psychological responses in most people.

Red tones are particularly interesting in a bedroom. Red is a color that is associated with energy, heat, and vigor. These tones can be applied to someone suffering from lethargy, and looking for a boost in the morning, as mentioned above. Having a lot of red in an environment also tends to make people feel hungry, so you have to consider any tendencies you may have towards midnight snacking.

Often people will use red in the bedroom to create a more amorous atmosphere. On the other hand red is also an excitable and angry color, so if you are prone to fighting with a spouse it may not be a good choice for you. In general, red is such a volatile color that it should probably be used in accent pieces, such as pillows and wall clocks, rather than being the main theme of the entire space.

Green and blue tones are generally considered to be rather serene, and are useful when trying to create a relaxed atmosphere in the bedroom. Green usually has a little more vigor than blue, bringing to mind thoughts of woods, and fields, and life in general. Meanwhile blue tones tend to call up images of the depths of the sea, or a sky on a cloudless day. Even when blue tones get dark and stormy there is still something deep and peaceful about them, and so they are perfect for creating a tranquil paradise in your bedroom setting.

Earth tones fall half way between manic and morose. They are vigorous industrial colors such as orange and amber, and even some shades of light red, but they also have more stolid and resigned hues such as brown and gray tones, to dampen their lively effects. In general earth tones in the bedroom will make the space feel cozier and more inviting. People often associate these colors with family, love, and security.

By far the most important reference to consult when choosing colors for a bedroom is you. Everybody reacts differently to hue and tone, based on personality as well as experiences you may have had in your life. The important thing is that you start paying attention to color in the bedroom, in order to create a space which pampers your particular psychological needs.

The Basics of Dealing with Small Kitchens

July 23, 2009

A small kitchen can be a curse. There isn’t room for all of the great gadgets that you want, you hardly have space to turn around, and there are never enough counters. However you can put a positive spin on a cramped kitchen by turning your thinking upside down. Instead of feeling claustrophobic, allow the space to be cozy, wrapping itself around you and making every tool you own, every bowl you mix, every utensil you use just a hands reach away.

The secret to achieving such an environment in the kitchen is organization. If everything is tucked neatly away into a specific place, then you will be able to retrieve whatever you need instantly. Then, by putting it back into its place, you will avoid leaving it lying around to clutter up your work area.

Finding the optimal arrangement for your various tools and appliances will depend to a large extent on the shape of the room, and your own predilections. A good general rule is to keep like items together. That means all spoons and ladles should be in one area, and all knives should be kept together in another. This helps to keep things organized because it gives a kind of logic to the arrangement of these items.

Another important element when trying to create functionality in a small kitchen is clutter. This can consist of a variety of useless or even semi useful items. The juicer that you haven’t used in six months, but which you really do hope to use one day; well that’s clutter. So is the bread maker that you never took out of the box, and the home made ice cream machine, and any of a variety of other relatively exciting products, that you simply do not have time for on a day to day basis.

That doesn’t mean you have to throw them away. Just get them out of the main kitchen where they’re getting in the way. You can put them in a spare closet, or on some unused shelves, or up in the attic. Just make sure that when you do store them, you keep them organized and well labeled. That way when the time comes that you actually have a need to use one of these contraptions, you will know exactly how to lay your hands on it.

Probably the most important functional element in a kitchen is counter space. Unless you have found the room for a small kitchen table, this is where the majority of your work will be done, and it is a precious commodity. Don’t make the mistake of taking it up with a lot of useless knick-knacks. You should also be frugal with the number of appliances you keep on your counters. It’s tempting to leave everything out where it can be used, but when it’s not being used it will just get in the way.

A small kitchen does present a number of challenges to a chef, however a little bit of planning, strategy, and organization and you can actually turn this negative aspect into a positive one, where the room fits around you almost like a glove. In such a space you will be able to reach out in an instant and place your hand upon any utensil that you require. In this way you will squeeze the maximum efficiency possible from this room.

Reclaiming Your Attic

April 10, 2009

It’s up there, waiting for you. Unused, unloved, it is little more than a repository for the cast of clutter of your life: what a waste. But it doesn’t have to be this way: you can reclaim your attic, fix it up, decorate it, and turn it into any kind of space that you can imagine. All you have to do is determine what you want, and then follow through.

One of the great things about the attic is that it is pretty much extra space. You have a home with a certain number of bedrooms, bathrooms, a kitchen, possibly a den, but the attic is like a wild card. Up there, you can do any frivolous thing that you want. You can create a secret haven, build a place for your friends to hang out, create an art gallery of quirky home décor items, or design an extra guest bedroom, the decision is entirely yours.

However there are a number of factors that are specific to the attic, which you have to consider when extending your functional home to this lofty height. The first, and most important, is the health and safety of the space.

Many attics suffer from exposed insulation. This pink fluffy stuff is what keeps your home from losing heat. Unfortunately it is quite hazardous and can cause an itchy rash if touched, and even worse health problems if inhaled. Before you will be able to reclaim the attic, you will have to make sure that all of your insulation is safely hidden behind plywood or drywall sheets.

Other dangerous conditions that can develop in an attic include mold, water damage, insects, and vermin. There can also be weaknesses in the walls, and leaks in the ceiling. Be certain to inspect the space thoroughly before you start planning a room around it, and take care of any potential health hazards right from the beginning.

Another consideration when trying to make the attic functional is temperature. In some cases the attic won’t be properly insulated. In these cases, the space can become quite cold in the winter. This can be offset to some extent by lining the walls in blankets, and sealing off windows and other openings, but there really is no substitute for a properly insulated attic space.

On the other hand, if the attic is insulated, then it can suffer from an excess of heat. Since heat rises and this space is at the top of the house, all of the heat that is used to warm up the home will eventually end up in the attic. This can make the place sweltering. Make sure that any windows you may have can be easily opened, and use fans to keep the space ventilated. You may also want to consider an air conditioning unit.

In some cases the ceiling of the attic will slope, often at uncomfortably steep angles, following the line of the buildings roof. This may mean that your walls are actually only a few feet tall, and it may only be possible to stand up in certain central parts of the room. Unfortunately, this will make most of the floor space in the room unusable.

One way to turn this to your advantage is to design an attic space that is cozy, and low to the ground. Thick carpeting will make it easy for people if they have to crawl around the space on hands and knees. A series of low couches, or even just couch cushions, spread throughout the attic can give it a lounge feel. In this way you can use the low ceiling to your advantage, making the space seem cozy and enveloping.

The attic is up there, you really shouldn’t just ignore it. It is a wealth of space which you can turn into a spare bedroom, a home office, or even a hobby center. All it requires is a few simple considerations, and some time and effort on your part, and you can turn your attic into your favorite room in the house.

Add Color and Privacy to a Small Backyard

January 31, 2009

If you live in the city, chances are your backyard is just about as big as a postage stamp. If you are fortunate, it’s about 50 feet wide, and offers you little privacy from the neighbors. Here are a few suggestions that will help you add some color, and protect your backyard space from the eyes of prying or well-meaning neighbors without putting up a tall privacy fence.

One way to create a natural-looking border for a patio or porch is by planting a vertical box garden. Do this by building a wooden frame to hold potted plants. Stain the wood for a finished look, or leave it to weather naturally with the elements. Slide the pots back and forth or change them around to vary their appearance from day to day. Use a movable frame to slide the garden back and forth as you prefer, or secure the support posts in the ground beside the patio for stability. In this way, you will have an endless supply of interchangeable, living, growing, garden decorating choices.

Another option is to use trellises to train climbing vines that will grow and shield you from view. Many different varieties of climbing plants can provide you with variegated color and even a light floral scent. Rose bushes, passion flower, honeysuckle, clematis, and morning glories all are excellent, colorful choices.

If you prefer, you can border your backyard or patio with small shrubs and miniature trees that will offer a measure of privacy as they grow. Select ornamental shrubs such as lilacs, redbuds, or flowering crabapple. Or, if you prefer not to clean the patio regularly, choose shrubs that don’t flower. Wax myrtles, barberry shrubs, and juniper bushes typically require less cleaning and maintenance than their flowering counterparts.

Some miniature trees that can offer a slightly more secluded space include Japanese maples, dwarf plum trees, or small evergreens. Of course, if you choose trees that lose their leaves each fall, you will pay a small price for the beautiful color that will surround your patio during the spring and fall. Be prepared to rake those leaves, and sweep the patio or porch clean!

A slightly different twist on using miniature trees for privacy involves creating what is known as a living fence. Use dwarf fruit trees such as apple or peach, or use flowering ornamental trees like magnolias or dogwood. Build a frame of wooden posts about 8 feet apart, and string wire between the posts. Plant the trees about three feet apart. During the first few years, you will need to spend extra time cutting back, or pruning, the branches, and tying them together so that they intertwine as they grow.

Of course, none of these options may work well for you, or perhaps you just don’t enjoy the amount of maintenance gardening some of these options require. In that case, you can always build a decorative fence or wall. There are a number of attractive options from which you can choose, and you can still have that little bit of privacy that makes your house a home.

Is Your Roof Growing Trees?

January 28, 2009

Have you ever seen a roof growing trees? As absurd as this may sound, it can – and does – happen! Many people neglect regular gutter maintenance. As a result, their gutters clog up with leaves, plants, organic materials, and other debris. Over time, seeds can take root and grow in the organic compost that forms.

Plants and trees growing in your gutters can be unsightly, and cause people to make embarrassing comments about the way you keep up your property, but they don’t really do any harm to your house, right? Wrong!

Gutters do much more than just keep the rain from running off the roof and onto your porch, or showering you when you walk out the door. Proper gutter maintenance can keep you from making all kinds of repairs because of water damage.

For example, if the gutters of your house become clogged, the water from the roof runs down the side of the house. Over a period of time, this can cause wooden siding to warp, or cause mold to grow on vinyl siding. It can also rot the boards just underneath the shingles on your roof, causing damage to the shingles and causing the roof to leak.

Furthermore, if the gutters aren’t cleaned regularly, the water from the roof will pool alongside the foundation of your house. The water will seep through the foundation and cause moisture to enter your basement. This moisture can cause mold to form, which will limit or eliminate any basement decorating options you may have.

Mold is more than just an annoyance. Severe cases of mold can cause breathing problems and increase allergies in sensitive people. Occasionally, mold growth becomes so uncontrollable that houses have to be condemned and torn down because it cannot be effectively treated!

One thing that you can do to help prevent your gutters from becoming filled with leaves and other organic materials is to limit the number of tree branches that overhang your roof. Even if you do this though, you’re going to have to clean the gutters a couple of times each year in order to prevent them from becoming clogged.

If your health problems prevent you from easily climbing a ladder, consider hiring a handyman to do this messy work for you. Don’t risk your health attacking the problem on your own. Sometimes, spending a little money to get things done can help you avoid paying big doctor bills for a nasty fall!

If you’re set on doing the chore yourself, or don’t have the money to hire someone to do it, there are inexpensive pole attachments you can purchase to help you with this bothersome task.

If you decide to climb the ladder and do it by hand, wear gloves so you don’t get cut by sharp metal. Clean out the worst of the muck, and use a hose to spray the gutter clean. If you notice a section of gutter with loose metal or a hole, replace it as soon as possible. This small investment of time and money can help you keep your investment in your house healthy!

5 Tips for Green Home Remodeling

December 14, 2008

The easiest ways to turn an existing house into an eco-friendly green house are to increase energy efficiency and to use green materials when you remodel. Here are some ideas to think about while you’re in the planning stages.

First, replace your old appliances with Energy Star appliances. These are specifically manufactured to save energy and lower your utility bills. Your refrigerator, stove, dishwasher, microwave, and washer and dryer are all available in energy-efficient models. While some models may cost a little more up front, the yearly savings over the life of your new appliance can be well worth it.

Second, replace your old 30 or 40 gallon hot water heater with tankless hot water heaters. These are small water heaters mounted on the wall where you actually use the hot water. They heat the water as you need it, like an electric kettle, instead of keeping 30 or 40 gallons on simmer for 24 hours a day. These devices have been widely and successfully used in Europe for more than 40 years, but they are just now arriving to the United States.

Third, replace your counter tops, shelving, interior doors and wood laminate flooring with low VOC materials. This means that the new materials do not off gas toxic chemicals into the air that can irritate sensitive eyes and lungs. Your indoor air quality and your health will both be improved.

Fourth, landscape with local native plants that will grow with natural rainwater. Consider extending the native plants into you entire yard, and eliminating high-maintenance sod and lawns. This may seem drastic at first, but more and more people will be choosing this option as the cost of watering your lawn goes higher. Some neighborhoods in drought prone regions already enforce water restrictions. By choosing to xeriscape, which means using natural, native low-water plants, you won’t have to worry about watering your lawn.

Fifth, replace your flooring with natural, renewable materials like bamboo and cork. Not only are these materials trendy and attractive, you won’t be contributing to the clear-cutting of old growth forests. Instead of synthetic wall to wall carpeting that is not biodegradable, use natural fibers like sisal, jute or hemp for area rugs.

These are just a few ideas for using energy efficient and eco-friendly products in your home remodeling projects. The good news is that more and more consumers are requesting green building materials, so they’re now readily available at most local hardware stores. If not, it’s always easy to find these types of products online.

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