Home Improvement

Does your home need an energy makeover?

Give your home an energy makeover and tackle spring-cleaning with the environment in mind. Eco-friendly spring cleaning practices produce less waste and rely on less chemicals to rejuvenate a home and get it ready for summertime afternoons when huddling inside under the covers takes a backseat to lounging around as fresh air washes into the house. Here are some easy tips to get you on a green path.

  •  The average person uses between 80 and 100 gallons of water each day. Older showerheads might be using as much as 5 gallons per minute, or 50 gallons of water during a 10-minute shower. When shopping for a new showerhead, choose a model that also conserves water.
  • Upgrading your appliances to newer, more efficient models can give a home a fresh look while reducing energy consumption, a byproduct of the stricter standards placed on manufacturers who must adhere to stricter environmentally friendly guidelines.
  • Simply opening windows boosts moods and can also be good for the environment. Because many houses are built to be airtight to conserve energy and money, unhealthy levels of air pollutants can build up inside when windows remain closed. Open windows spread fresh air while houseplants help filter indoor air and make it healthier to breathe. It also reduces reliance on chemical cleaning products and help keep your the home cool without the help of energy-guzzling appliances.
  • Increasing natural light in a home can improve feelings of well-being and also reduce interior lightning’s energy consumption during daylight hours. Open curtains, clean windows, install sliding doors or skylights, or think about changing a room’s layout to improve light distribution.
  • Trapped dust and debris in a filter makes furnaces and air conditioners work harder. Clean filters so that air can blow more smoothly through the system.
  • Air leaks could be sucking energy out of your home and money out of your wallet. Once you find any leaks, you can use weather stripping and caulking to seal up breaches and save energy and money.
  • Install high-efficiency insulation in attics and between walls to prevent energy loss and keep more warm or cool air in the home. A well-insulated house requires less heating and cooling to keep the temperature indoors stable.
  • Switching bulbs from incandescent to more efficient LED or CFL bulbs can save money in the long run.
  • Take a few minutes to analyze if something can be reused before tossing it out. Cans, bottles, aluminum foil, paper bags, plastic bags, and plastic containers can be recycled or put to use in other ways.
  • Purchase locally grown foods or products produced nearby reduces the need to transport those products while cutting back on packaging as well. Visit farmers’ markets on the weekend to stock up on items used for meals during the week.
  • Consciously turn off the lights, televisions, radios, and other electronics after you leave a room to cut down on energy usage.
  • Plant more trees or other plants around the house. They produce oxygen and store carbon, helping to control greenhouse gases and keep the atmosphere cooler.
  • A standard water heater is set to 140 F, but many people do not need water that hot. Turn it down a few degrees, and you’ll save energy and reduce the risk of scalding.
  • Leaky toilets can waste a substantial amount of water, some as much as 200 gallons per day. Fixing leaky toilets as well as any faucets around the house can help conserve energy and save money on your monthly water bill.
  • Forgo using paper towels in favor of reusable cloths. Reusable wash cloths can be just as effective at wiping down counters as paper towels, which require more and more trees to be cut down and eventually end up in landfills. If you are feeling especially eco-friendly, you can go the extra mile and create your own reusable cleaning cloths out of old clothes or linens.
  • Avoid pesticides whenever possible. They typically come at a steep price, impacting local wildlife and perhaps even the local water supply.
  • Don’t let rainwater go to waste. Rain barrels are a great way to make good use of rain. Place them beneath a gutter’s downspout where they will collect water that can be reused throughout your property to water the lawn and garden.
  • Many building materials can be salvaged. When making renovations to a home, separate materials like lumber, hardware, fixtures, and even appliances that can be salvaged from those that must be discarded, and make use of other homeowners’ discarded materials.
  • Contractors working on a home typically know which materials can be recycled in a given area. When discussing prospective projects with contractors, mention their willingness to recycle materials.


Small change; new looks at low cost

Even nominal changes can give the space an entirely different feel. A few updated pieces or accessories can give a room a new look without breaking the bank.

  •  Slipcovers are no longer the amorphous sacks they once were, and provide a simple way to cover up an outdated style of sofa fabric or a chair that has seen better days, or to protect new couches from damage.
  • Breathe new life into older furniture by changing the knobs, draw pulls and handles. Using sleeker, more streamlined knobs can make traditional furniture look more modern. Changing pulls from metal to wood can make a room look more earthy or country.
  • Do not underestimate the power of a fresh coat of paint. Dark, small spaces can be made to look more expansive with lighter colors. Cavernous rooms that look empty may prove more inviting with darker hues. Furniture also can be painted and stained.
  • Swapping out curtains, throw pillows, area rugs, lamp shades and even wall art can easily and often inexpensively transform the look of a room. Homeowners can purchase accessories with bright colors that add a pop of brightness throughout the room and can provide a pick-me-up for neutral design tones.
  • Revamping a room can be done by subtraction as well as addition. Explore the option of taking out a piece of furniture that may be cumbersome and blocking foot traffic. Removing knickknacks from shelves and thinning out the use of collectibles can make a room more airy and inviting.
  • Homeowners working on tight budgets can opt for imitation materials that appear and feel just like more costly authentic materials. You may not need marble flooring when advancements in vinyl flooring have enabled this affordable material to mimic the look of more expensive materials at a fraction of the cost.
  • Homeowners about to undertake small-scale do-it-yourself projects can often save money by using recycled materials. Habitat for Humanity, for example — a nonprofit organization devoted to building homes for the less fortunate — operates its own ReStores, which are nonprofit home improvement stores that sell recycled building materials at a steep discount.
  • Labor costs on home improvement projects are considerable, but homeowners can cut these costs by doing some of the labor themselves. For bigger projects, chip in and do some of the demolition on your own, like breaking up and removing old sidewalk on their own rather than paying their contractors to do such work for them.

‘Measure twice, cut once’

A DYIer’s guide to new projects

‘Tis the season for home improvement projects. Weekend warriors will soon be visiting home supply retailers to buy everything from paint to plywood. Many a novice DIYer has learned the ups and downs of home improvement through trial and error. The following are a handful of lessons first-timers can heed before beginning their maiden voyages into the world of DIY home improvements.

  • Enlist a helper.
  • Lighten the load. Empty or remove drawers from desks and dressers before moving them. Rely on sliding pads when moving furniture so items can be slid into place instead of lifted.
  • Prime before painting. Priming helps to cover existing paint color and prevent bleed-through of stains or darker hues to the next coat of paint.
  • Using the right tools make work safer and easier. Improvising or using the wrong tools for the job can cost you time and increase your risk of injury.
  • Take the extra time to ensure the power is off before working with any exposed wiring.
  • Expect the unexpected. Although many renovation projects go off without a hitch, you never know what hidden problems you might uncover when you embark on repairs or remodels. Always leave breathing room in your budget and schedule extra time for unforeseen tasks as well.
  • Maximize the space of your existing closets. The addition of shelving or another rack for hanging clothes can solve some storage issues, and they can be installed with minimal damage and be removed when needed. Closet organization systems can be purchased, often inexpensively, from a home improvement center.
  • Homeowners may have to think vertically to solve storage solutions. Wall space may be abundant in a home where closets are not. Therefore, shelving and cabinets can be places to keep items neatly off the floor.

Landscaping large or small

Make some changes — large or small — to your yard this season. Here are a few easy things you can do to upgrade your landscape this season:

  •  Define the edges of planting borders with vinyl edging or repurposed antiques or items found at garage sales.
  • A fire pit can transform your lawn into inviting place to unwind on a summer evening or a chilly autumn night. Permanent fire pits can be incorporated into landscape designs to create a safe, professional patio look, while portable pits are freestanding units that you can move around the yard on a whim or load into the car for the beach or a neighbor’s house. Wood can be an inexpensive fuel source, but natural gas pits need less maintaining, and can run off of a portable propane tank (think barbecue tank) or be directly connected to a home’s natural gas supply. Remember to practice fire safety.
  • Adjust lighting for a well-designed landscape. Lighting should play up decorative features of a yard and add the ambience homeowners desire. With a few updates to outside lighting, families can make even better use of their homes at night. Lighting is typically layered into a room or outdoor space in three ways: overhead, task and ambient. Outdoor overhead lighting should improve visibility on steps, paths and walking surfaces, especially where there’s a bend or an intersection. Task lighting can be used around cooking or gardening areas, while ambient light will cast a comforting glow around any outdoor space. Lighting at the borders of a space is a great way to create barriers, both vertically and horizontally: lights in a tree, for example, create something akin to an outdoor chandelier hung in the middle of the sky.