7 Handy Ways to Smarten Up Your Home this Fall
If you let a lot of home improvement projects slip by this summer without taking action, take heart. Fall is here! You’ve now got an entire season to jump on household tasks when the weather is right and in advance of the holidays.
Not sure what to put next on your to-do list, or do you even have a list at all? Take a look at this list for inspiration along with a selection of How To articles. Gathered here are everything from quick tweaks like setting your thermostat just right to big jobs like switching locks, doorbells and light switches.
We’ve even got downright messy but critical assignments such as cleaning dryer vents and gas cooktops. There’s bound to be a must-do task below for you, no matter how skilled or experienced you are.
1. Set your Nest right
Dive a little deeper into your Nest thermostat settings. You’ll be able to issue it voice commands though Alexa or the Google Assistant. Other tips are how to have it control humidity, work to save you money, and make it stop acting crazy when it’s on automatic.
2. Make multimeters your friend
If you have no clue what a multimeter is or you own one that’s gathering dust, this guide is for you. We take a quick look at how multimeters are versatile, flexible home DIY tools every homeowner should have.
3. Tend to your gas cooktop
Cooktops, stoves and ranges need regular attention and TLC. If they don’t get it, they won’t serve you well. Treat them right by keeping them spic and span, with all burners ready for action. Both you and your house guests will appreciate the sparkling new look of your tidy appliance, too.
4. Goodbye, blah light switches
Don’t hang onto old, boring light switches just because they happen to be three-way. Use this guide to help you overcome your fear. With a little care and caution, you’ll be swapping in fancy new dimmers in no time.
5. Ditch the keys for convenience
Physical keys are so medieval. Your front door should rock a sleek, electronic lock like it’s 2018. These gadgets are flexible, motorized, and look great. Take a gander for yourself and see just what we mean.
6. See who’s there from anywhere
Know who’s at your doorstep before they press the buzzer. Find out if anyone has their paws on your packages. A sweet video doorbell can help with all those things. Read on to learn how to hook one up yourself in a flash.
7. Don’t neglect that dryer vent
As the saying goes, it’s a dirty job but someone has to do it. I’m talking about your home’s dryer vent. If you don’t take time to clear it out every year, it can quickly become a dangerous fire risk. Bite the bullet with this deep dive into dryer vent hygiene.
How are you making home improvement a priority in 2018? Sound off on the Patrick Parker Realty Facebook Page, on our Twitter or Instagram feeds or on LinkedIn. And don’t forget to subscribe to the monthly Patrick Parker Realty HOME ADVICEtm eNewsletter for articles, tips and guides like this delivered straight to your inbox. You may unsubscribe at any time.
Top 10 Native Plants that will Thrive in Your New Jersey Garden
The key to gardening success in the northeast, with its variably cold, snowy winters and short, humid summers, is choosing plants already adapted to the local climate and soils, as well as the specific conditions in your yard.
By learning to read the varied conditions of your landscape — and you may have multiple habitats that are very different from one another — you can then look for plants that grow naturally in those conditions without needing water over the average 40 to 60 inches of annual precipitation in this region.
Instead of impulse-buying plants that strike your fancy in bloom at the nursery, first take a good look at what you have to work with.
Here are 10 plants, from herbaceous perennials to woody vines, shrubs and trees, chosen for their multiseason beauty and interest, wildlife value and adaptability to a variety of garden conditions found across the Northeast, from dry sun to moist shade. Other than irrigation in their first year or two and an annual weeding, once these plants are established in conditions to their liking, they should require little else to thrive in your Northeast landscape.
Native to rich Eastern forests and woodlands
Best shade perennial. Foamflower, shown here, is a beautiful semievergreen ground cover that blooms in a sea of pink and white foamy flowers in spring. Fairly deer resistant (definitely not a deer’s first choice), it is perfect for growing in shady areas underneath trees or in the shade of a house. In rich soil, foamflower can spread annually a few feet in each direction from stolons (underground roots), but it is never invasive like Vinca and Japanese pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis), commonly planted ground covers that can escape into nearby woodlands.
Choose spreading varieties if you’re looking for a ground cover effect. Named cultivars found in nurseries are often labeled incorrectly as Tiarella cordifolia and are actually the clumping Appalachian species, Tiarella wherryi. These don’t spread from underground stolons, so read labels carefully if you prefer a spreading plant to fill an area.
2. Butterfly Milkweed
Native to open, sandy soils and uplands across eastern North America, but a rare species in most New England states
Best full-sun perennial for sandy or well-drained soil. This gorgeous native plant sports neon-orange blooms in early summer, attracting many butterflies and pollinators to its sweet nectar. Butterfly milkweed thrives in any sunny spot with well-draining soil, especially sand. As a milkweed, it’s an occasional food plant for monarch butterfly caterpillars, although swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), which leafs out and blooms later than the orange milkweed, is preferred as a host plant.
3. New England Aster
Native to moist meadows and fields on the East Coast and south to Virginia
Best full-sun perennial for moist soil and late-season blooms. The purple flowers of New England aster, along with goldenrod (Solidago spp), signal the summer’s end here in the Northeast. An important nectar and host plant for butterflies and late-season beneficial insects, it loves full sun and moist soil, but it will put on a great show in any reasonable garden soil. Allow it to self-seed and create large drifts of fall color, and watch for monarch butterflies drinking nectar from the flowers, essential fuel for their long flight south to Mexico.
Some species are native to low woods and swamps, and others are adapted to high and dry exposed areas
Most adaptable flowering shrub. Serviceberry, also called shadbush, shadblow and juneberry, is a beautiful multistemmed shrub or small tree that grows in sun or the understory of larger trees. Clouds of white flowers cover serviceberry in April, and the early-season nectar is valuable forage for many pollinators. Birds flock to feed on the pink and purple edible berries that ripen in June. The fall foliage is a striking orange and yellow, especially when grown in the sun. Plants sold in nurseries are usually natural hybrids of local species.
5. New Jersey Tea
Native to sandy pine barrens and rocky soils of eastern North America
Best full-sun shrub for dry soils. This shrub makes it into the top 10 for its ability to thrive in the leanest and driest soils without wanting or needing fertilizer or watering. Planted in these conditions, it’s as close to a zero-maintenance flowering shrub that exists in the north. Billowy, white early-summer blooms attract hordes of pollinators and beneficial predatory insects that help control garden pests. New Jersey tea is hard to find for sale; look for it at native-plant nurseries in your region.
6. Highbush Blueberry or Lowbush Blueberry
(Vaccinium corymbosum, Vaccinium angustifolium)
Native to a variety of habitats, ranging from swamps and bogs to woods, fields and rocky outcrops
Best edible plant. Blueberry is an essential Northern garden plant because of its delicious berries, fiery fall foliage and, depending on the species, ability to grow just about anywhere with some sun.
7. Trumpet Honeysuckle
Native to forest edges, woodlands and ledges in southern New England and south
Best flowering vine. Trumpet honeysuckle, also called coral honeysuckle, is a well-behaved flowering vine that attracts hummingbirds and won’t take over your house or yard the way Asian wisteria (Wisteria sinensis or W. floribunda) or English ivy (Hedera helix) can. Trumpet honeysuckle is perfect for twining up an arbor or along a fence line.
Important note: Don’t confuse trumpet honeysuckle with trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans) or crossvine (Bignonia capreolata), which are also vines with trumpet-shaped flowers but should be avoided, due to their aggressive spreading through underground runners.
8. Gray Birch
Grows wild in abandoned fields and disturbed areas of the East
Most adaptable small tree. Gray birch is an attractive and fast-growing tree for sun or shade, wet or dry soil. It’s more resistant than other birches to the bronze birch borer pest. Grow gray birch to add quick and easy wildlife habitat to your property — its seeds and catkins feed birds, and its foliage hosts many butterfly and moth caterpillars, which in turn become a protein-rich food that birds use to feed their babies in the nest.
9. Red Maple
Native to swamps, forests, fields, and river and wetland edges
Most adaptable large tree. Grow red maple, also called swamp maple, for its fast growth when young and its multiseason interest. Its red flowers in early spring feed native bees, and its brilliant orange and red fall foliage rivals the iconic colored foliage of sugar maples, which are beginning to die out due to a warming climate.
10. Creeping Juniper
Native to dunes and sandy, gravelly or rocky outcrops, often seen growing on highway embankments
Best evergreen ground cover for full sun and dry soil. What it lacks in showy blooms, juniper makes up for with its tough disposition, growing in the toughest, driest soils. Its low, spreading habit creeps nicely around rocks and into awkward spaces, highlighting nearby showy plants and unifying landscape designs large and small. Easily the most drought-tolerant evergreen ground cover for Eastern gardens, juniper grows in any well-drained soil in full sun, including sand and on steep slopes.
Do you have a Jersey Green Thumb? What can you share about the plants thriving in your garden? Sound off on the Patrick Parker Realty Facebook Page or on our Instagram or Twitter Feeds. And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly HOME ADVICEtm email newsletter for articles like this delivered straight to your inbox. You may unsubscribe at any time.
8 Maintenance Tasks All Homeowners Should Do Once a Year
You have the basics of homeownership maintenance down. You change the ceiling blade direction every summer and winter, you scrub the inside and outside of your windows each spring, and you remove every drop of water from your sprinkler system before the first frost.
But are you sure you’re getting everything done?
These eight annual maintenance to-dos are easily forgotten—but checking them off once per year can save you some major headaches, heartaches—and money!
1. Salt your water softener
You’ll need to take a trip to your local home maintenance store for this project. If your water heater features a rad built-in water softener, skipping regular maintenance can cause irreversible damage.
Let’s say you’ve purchased a home with a 2-year-old hot water heater. Pretty new, right? Well, if the previous owner skipped salting the softener, letting mineral build up inside the unit, it will sound like a rock tumbler.
Should that happen, a few intense flushes should do the trick. But don’t wait.
At the end of the day, regular maintenance will prevent damage and will help you avoid a major expense down the road.
2. Test your well water
Having your own well can be a perk—sweet, fresh-from-the-earth water, with no bill! But in-ground water is subject to all sorts of contaminants, including high levels of nitrates, sulfates, or microorganisms. To keep your gut happy and prevent nastier health issues, make sure to test your well water every year. (Shallow wells can require more frequent testing.)
Many municipalities offer free water screening. If yours isn’t so kind, you can send samples to a nearby laboratory for analysis.
3. Update your disaster kit
You don’t have to be a prepper to be prepared. Even minor storms can knock out power for a days. Darkness is a lot less miserable with basic supplies. Every household needs a disaster kit—essential supplies that can keep you going in an emergency. Include necessities such as a first-aid kit, a three-day supply of nonperishable food, plenty of water, printed maps, and a whistle.
Dig through your kit once a year, and check the expiration dates of all of your food, look for broken seals, and make sure none of your necessities have been used or gone missing in the previous 365 days. Check your stock against Ready.gov’s extensive list of basic disaster supplies.
4. Know your humidity
Humidity—especially in the basement—is an early warning sign of future problems. High humidity can cause mildew and black mold. Left unchecked for a significant period of time, it can even cause structural damage. So pick up a hygrometer, and check your levels at least once a year.
If the reading is low, don’t assume you’re in the clear. Too little humidity might not be as dangerous as high levels, but it can still cause sore throats and itchiness—and damage the house. Wood might crack, paint can chip, and electronics could be permanently damaged. Shoot for humidity levels that fall between 30% and 50%.
5. Check for termites
Many homeowners tend to take an “out of sight, out of mind” approach to these wood-eating buggers—but once a year, make sure termites are on your mind.
Ultimately, an annual termite inspection is typically less than $100, and can save you thousands.
6. Take a photo
You’d never skip snapping a shot of your kid on her first day of school each year—so why wouldn’t you do the same for your house? On the anniversary of your purchase, step outside with a camera and shoot a picture of your home in its current state. Over the years, you’ll be astonished by how much your home has evolved.
7. Save 1% of the home’s value
The typical rule of thumb is that a home costs 1% of its value in maintenance fees each year. For example, if you’re purchasing a home worth $300,000, expect to pay $3,000 each year to keep it in shipshape condition.
While you should be regularly saving throughout the year, taking the time once annually to investigate your bank accounts can keep you out of hot water. And, of course, the 1% rule is only an estimate—when it comes to homeownership, anything can go wrong.
A new roof might cost $7,500 (or more—way more). Serious foundation issues could ring in at $40,000. And new siding might require a $10,000 payment. Adding more to your home savings account is never a bad idea. But at the very least, make sure you have the bare minimum.
8. Create a donation pile
After a few years in your home, you might be astounded to find out just how much unnecessary stuff has piled up. Once a year—perhaps around spring-cleaning—do a deep dive into your closets, drawers, bookshelves, and garage. Toss or donate anything you haven’t touched in the past year.
RELATED: Do I Have Too Much Stuff?
Here’s what not to do with all that newly empty space: Fill it up again. But if you fail, well, you’ll be sorting through it again next year when you do these steps all over again.
As a homeowner, what annual home rituals do you keep? What advice might you have to new homeowners when it comes to ongoing home maintenance? Sound off on The Patrick Parker Realty Facebook Page or our Twitter or Instagram feeds. And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly HOME ADVICEtm email newsletter for articles like this delivered straight to your inbox. You may unsubscribe at any time.
Living With Less: Do You Have Too Much Stuff?
We’ve all been there. The cabinets are overflowing. There’s no more room in any closet. And the drawers are crammed so full they won’t close. Your stuff has outgrown your space. But instead of blaming your home for its lack of storage, maybe consider that you have too much stuff. That issue is easier to address quickly and doesn’t involve a whole home remodel.
So, how do you know if you have too much stuff? and What do you get rid of?
Here are three questions you can ask yourself to help with paring down to quality possessions:
1. Do you own multiple versions of the same thing?
Do you have three blenders because you got updated versions twice and have yet to get rid of your old ones? This is the kind of thing that creates clutter.
What to do about it: Start in one space, and go section by section. For example, in your kitchen open up all of your cabinets. Go from cabinet to cabinet, removing all of the items.
Try starting with small appliances. Lay them all out on the counter, and keep only the ones you use. Donate or sell the rest. Move on to the pantry, then the serving pieces, then the dishes and on and on around the room. The same rules apply for every section. Get rid of the things you don’t use.
Tip: Try and lose the guilt you feel from getting rid of any gifts you have been given (or inherited). It really is OK to pass along things you don’t use or love.
2. Do you feel stressed about having to find a place for all of your things?
Are your closets jam-packed? Do you find that you wear the same things over and over even though your closet is overflowing? If you answered “Yes,” you probably have too many clothes.
In an effort to try and live with less, you must eliminate the things that don’t serve you. This same concept applies to any space in your home that’s overflowing.
What to do about it: Take all of your clothing out of your closet, or take out certain categories at once (denim, sweaters, shoes). Ask yourself very honestly if you love each item and want to wear it. If yes, great, it stays. If no, put it in a designated spot for donation or resale. Ask yourself this question with each and every item you come across in your closet.
3. Is it hard to keep track of your belongings?
Are you constantly losing things in drawers, cupboards, bins or other nooks and crannies of your home? This is usually a sign of too many belongings.
What to do about it: Keep your things consistent. Use one wallet, one makeup case, one pencil case … at a time. Having one place where your items live reduces the amount of backup items you have.
The goal: These questions and the resulting work will take time. You won’t be able to just snap your fingers and magically have uncluttered closets, drawers and living spaces. Instead, set aside an hour or two every day or week to tackle one area — or a whole room if you’re feeling ambitious. Regardless of how long it takes, you’ll appreciate the time you put toward living with less.
What struggles or strategies do you have when it comes to purging your belongings? Sound off on our Facebook Page or on our Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn feeds. And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly HOME ADVICEtm eNewsletter for articles like this delivered straight to your inbox. You may unsubscribe at any time.
5 ‘Must-Do’ Home Resolutions for January
Happy New Year! January is the month to take stock and plan ahead. That’s why these five “must-do” projects for January include everything from adopting some home-focused resolutions to storing holiday decorations and getting snow-ready.
1. Make ‘energy savings’ a resolution to keep
This year, as you make your New Year’s resolution to spend less, go on a diet, join a gym, learn a new skill or perhaps find more time for yourself, consider adding another goal for 2013 — putting your house on an energy diet.
Just like taxes and death, you can be sure that energy and utility costs will continue to take a bite out of your home operating budget. How big of a bite is within your control. That’s why it pays to do everything you can to keep your home as trim and fit as possible. After all, sometimes even a seemingly modest change in your home (or change in your personal habits) can make a dramatic difference over time.
For example, there’s been plenty written about energy-efficient light bulbs, but have you put that information into practice? If not, make it a goal this year. If every American home replaced just one incandescent light bulb with an Energy Star-certified variety, we would conserve enough energy to light 3 million homes for a year, save about $600 million in annual energy costs and prevent 9 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions per year (equivalent to the amount produced by about 800,000 cars), according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
RELATED: How To Hack Your Electric Bill
And if you’ve turned a deaf ear to that dripping faucet or runny toilet, you can be sure that your water company hasn’t. If you know that there’s a leak, fix it. It may require something as simple as tightening a valve or replacing a worn washer or ineffective flapper, all simple repairs you can take care of yourself. If the leak requires replacing the faucet or toilet altogether, call in a professional and choose a fixture bearing the WaterSense label. And the next time you flush, consider this: If everyone in the U.S. flushed the toilet just one time less per day, we could save the equivalent of a lake full of water about 1 square mile and 4 feet deep every day.
Looking for more ways to conserve and save this year? Seal those drafts, make sure your home is well-insulated, install low-flow shower heads and change furnace filters.
2. Pack up the holiday decorations
As fun as it is to unearth boxes of holiday decorations in November, there is nothing enjoyable about packing them all away again in January. Big-box stores will be happy to sell you bins and containers geared specifically toward holiday-related storage, but with a little planning and ingenuity, you can create your own DIY solutions that will work just as well. A piece of cardboard with slots at both ends is ideal for wrapping string lights, while those inexpensive, 6-ounce plastic party cups are the perfect individual holders for fragile ornaments. And if you have a real tree, consider bringing it to a treecycling location, where it will be chipped into mulch for beneficial use.
3. Get snow-ready
Take time now to make sure you are prepared for snow. Snow shovels, snow blowers, salt or sand should all be at the ready. If you haven’t fired up your snow blower since last winter, you might want to do so now.
Consider some routine maintenance like changing the oil; replacing frayed or cracked belts; tightening nuts, bolts, and screws; and lubricating drive and chassis. Also, watch for the formation of icicles along the eaves as snow begins to melt. They can create ice dams and serious damage to the roof if left unattended. A roof rake is a great way to pull the snow from the eaves to lessen the problem.
4. Employ some countertop TLC
Perhaps never before have there been so many enticing countertop options to fit every budget, decor and culinary need. But all countertops are not created equal. So what’s the best way to keep yours in peak condition? You can start with some pretty basic “do’s and don’ts,” such as cleaning often with a sponge or soft cloth and mild, non-abrasive detergent, or by practicing caution when using sharp knives and hot cookware. If you have granite or marble, be sure to use a good sealer, which will help prolong the life of the stone and provide a barrier of protection against staining. Wood countertops should be rubbed with tung, linseed or mineral oil anywhere from monthly to quarterly, depending on usage. The same mineral oil can be applied to soapstone to provide a protective coat and rich, dark color. For stained laminate, try a homemade paste of baking soda and water. For tips on caring for concrete, stainless steel, quartz, solid surfaces and ceramic tile, visit Countertop Care 101.
5. Make a better fire
While many of today’s homeowners opt for the convenience of a gas fireplace, the traditionalists among us may always prefer the smokey smell, crackling sound and tactile ritual of fire building. While there is an art to making a fire, it all begins with the right choice of wood. Every species has its own set of burning characteristics. Some species — oak, for example — offer a very slow burn and hot fire, while other species like fir provide medium heat with less ash. You’ll also want to make sure the wood you use is properly seasoned and stored in a well-ventilated outdoor area, protected from the elements.
What 2018 Home Resolutions have you made? We want to hear from you! Sound off on our Facebook Page or on our Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn feeds. And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly HOME ADVICEtm eNewsletter for articles like this delivered straight to your inbox. You may unsubscribe at any time.
How to Keep Your Home Cool in Summer Without AC
Ah, air conditioning. During the dog days of summer it’s easy to deem air conditioning as one of humankind’s greatest inventions. Unfortunately, it just so happens to be an energy-intensive one, which can lead to high energy bills. What’s more, many older homes don’t have central air installed, especially in more temperate regions. This may be fine when the thermostat only clocks in at 60, but it can be painful when it soars into the 90s or above.
Thankfully, there are plenty of energy-efficient ways to keep your home cool in the summertime without the help of AC.
Let’s take a look at just a few…
1. Shading Your Windows
One of the best things you can do to keep your house cool without even thinking about AC is shading your windows. There are a number of ways to do this.
Roof overhangs and awnings. A roof overhang is a type of roof that extends further than a typical roof, providing shade for the part of the house it covers. An awning provides a similar function, and can be added to any window, whether on the first floor or second, even after a roof has been installed. For maximum cooling, you’ll want to invest in protecting your western and southern windows from light, as this is where they’ll prove most necessary and effective. However, if you’d like to benefit from passive warming in the winter, overhangs and awnings are likely too permanent of a solution. Instead, you’d be better shading your windows with one of the removable and retractable options below.
Automated blinds. A good pair of thick blinds can do wonders when it comes to keeping your house cool, especially if you keep them closed during the warmest parts of the day. Due to their construction, honeycomb blinds in particular can be effective at absorbing heat, but any thick blind will do. An automated pair of blinds that open and close on a schedule and that can be controlled from afar can help you maximize cooling throughout the day when you’re gone. Whatever kind of blinds you choose, these are a good solution for southern facing windows since they can be raised in the winter when you might need warmth.
Other window treatment options. Of course, there are many other kinds of window treatments that are great at blocking out light. Shades are particularly effective if mounted closest to the window to reduce heat gain. Medium-colored drapes with a plastic backing can reduce solar gain by as much as 33%. Pro tip: dip your drapes in water or wash them the night before and let them dry as they hang for even more cooling. Tightly woven bamboo screens, whether placed inside or outside of a window, can also prevent as much as 80% of solar heat from passing through the window.
Trees. Planting trees around your house — but not so close that they become a fire hazard — is a beautiful and natural way to shade your windows. Again, don’t do this on the south facing side if you’d like passive heat in the winter. Opt for a variety that’s known for its shading, like a species of maple or river birch.
RELATED: How to Hack Your Electric Bill
2. Insulate Your Home Well
We often think of insulation when it comes to keeping our houses warm, but it’s just as important in keeping the house cool. You’ll want to insulate ducts to prevent any leakage, as well as your attic and walls. Spray foam, rigid foam boards, and batt insulation are all effective at regulating your house’s temperature.
RELATED: Green Your Home
On a similar note, if you are currently designing or remodeling your home, now is the time to choose materials that have a high thermal mass, which means that they store heat. Such materials include brick, cement, rammed earth, stone, and ceramic tiles. If you’ve got a finished home, even covering a wall that receives a large amount of sunlight with a material like brick can help to absorb heat.
3. Install and Use Fans Strategically
Fans are an effective and cheap way to move air around your home, but that won’t do you much good if you’re just circulating hot air. Placing a fan in a window will allow you to suck cool air in at night. In corner rooms, placing another fan in the opposite direction will pull hot air out of your house, while that cooler air is sucked in through the opposite window.
Ceiling fans placed throughout the house can work great, especially if they’re made to spin counterclockwise to create a wind-chill breeze effect. And if your house has a cool basement, a ventilator fan will push that cold air up into your house.
4. Say Goodbye to Incandescent Lights
Incandescent lights are known for being energy inefficient, but did you know how they waste so much energy? By giving off heat, of course! In fact, they lose about 90% of their energy that way. Opting for more energy efficient choices like compact fluorescent bulbs for lamps and overhead lighting and LED bulbs for under cabinet kitchen lighting will save you on your lighting bills and keep your house cool at the same time.
As you can see, there are many excellent, energy efficient ways to keep your house cool without even having to glance at the price tag on an air conditioning unit. Of course, your best strategy is to use a combination of these techniques together for maximum effectiveness. So ditch the ice pack this summer, and make your house the coolest on the block.
Do you have tips to add to our list? Sound off on the Patrick Parker Realty Facebook Page, on our Twitter or LinkedIn feeds or on Instagram. And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly HOME ADVICE email newsletter for articles like this delivered straight to your inbox. You may unsubscribe at any time.
Don’t Be Gross, and 6 Other Things Your Housecleaner Wishes You Knew
Hate cleaning your house? No one could blame you: There’s precious little fun in scrubbing toilets. Or wiping down grime-streaked windows to the point where your elbows are sore for weeks. And you probably cringe when you think about your living room’s floor-to-ceiling built-in shelves, whose upper levels haven’t seen a dust rag since Tony Soprano faded abruptly to black.
Enter the humble housecleaner—here to save you from yourself! You can hand over your most hated tasks and wash your hands of cleaning.
But if you’re hiring a housecleaner to do the hard work, don’t make the job even harder. Following these insider tips will not only help ensure your status as a decent human being, they can also help you save some cash.
Here are seven tips for keeping your cleaning from turning into a dust-up:
1. Precleaning will save you money
If you’re anything like us, you probably do a little precleaning for your housecleaner. And then, if you’re like us, you wonder how much of that is truly necessary—after all, that’s what the housecleaner is there for, right?
Here’s the deal: You should do whatever you can to help them help you. No, you don’t need to bust out the Clorox, the Shark vacuum, and the Miracle Mop, but you should tackle those dirty dishes, throw out the takeout containers, and pick up that pile of clothes. If you don’t, you may find that your wallet’s been cleaned out, too.
Think it all comes out in the wash? Let us do the math for you: If your housecleaner charges you $30 per hour (the average rate) to clean, then a half-hour spent decluttering will cost you an extra $15—or $390 for a year’s worth of twice-a-month cleanings. Instead, straighten up the night before and save that cash for something else.
2. Give specific directions
Unless you’re ordering a top-to-bottom scrubbing every week, your cleaners need direction. Is the bathroom looking a little grungy? Ask them to spend extra time on the shower. Request extra attention to your baseboards. Sic them on your son’s room, now that he’s finally off to college.
Professionals say, iIf they don’t offer full instructions, there’s a chance you’ll be disappointed. And they don’t want that.
If you’re new to the world of professional housecleaning, you might not know exactly what your home needs most. Most maid services will happily stop by for a consultation so you can learn exactly how dirty you are.
3. Deal with your pets, please
Your dog runs in terror when you turn on your Dyson, so why would you leave it home alone when all the floors are getting vacuumed? Not all pups need to be taken to daycare during housecleaning, but if you already know your pet hates strangers or loud noises, try to quarantine the dog to their happy, comfy place.
Aggressive pets are a bit of a different story. It can also mean your house doesn’t get cleaned to your satisfaction. Housecleaners aren’t expected to sacrifice their own safety to clean your home, and if they’re faced with an angry animal, they might have to bail.
4. If you wouldn’t touch it, they won’t either
Yes, housecleaners will scrub away that nasty buildup around the bottom of your toilet seat. But they also have a limit: They won’t pick up your dog’s poop.
Housecleaners are not expected to handle any waste above the usual cleaning of the bathroom or the toilet.
5. Allot the proper amount of cleaning time
Don’t feel ashamed if your house is in dire straits. Life happens. Work picks up, a kid or two comes along, and suddenly you have no time for more than the bare minimum. Cleaners (probably) won’t judge you – but you should expect the job to take a bit longer.
Be honest with your housecleaners about the home’s current state so they can allocate enough time on their schedule.
6. Use an insured cleaning service
Housecleaners can’t avoid touching your most valuable belongings – Grandma’s heirloom teapot needs dusting, too. But sometimes accidents happen.
The best way to ensure the safety of your precious possessions is by selecting an insured cleaning service. It’ll have provisions in place to quickly rectify the situation.
Reputable services will want to take responsibility for any damage or accidents.
But it’s your responsibility to make sure things are in line and prepared for your housecleaner’s visit. That includes removing any truly priceless valuables – and making sure your home (however dirty) is a welcoming environment.
7. You’re not entirely off the hook
Hiring a housecleaning service doesn’t mean you can skip all of the cleaning. Well, sure: You probably can, if you’re willing to pay for the service to do the basics every time it comes by. But if you want to cut costs, make sure you try to keep up your home’s appearance in between cleanings.
Minor maintenance can be the difference between three or five hours every two weeks! Simple DIY tasks include wiping down the front of the cabinets after cooking, squeegeeing the shower, and sweeping the kitchen floor. Integrating them into your day-to-day routine can save you a few bucks on your bill.
Do you use a housecleaner regularly? What kind of advice can you offer to get the biggest bang for your buck? Housecleaner nightmare stories? What happened and what warnings can you share? Sound off on the Patrick Parker Realty Facebook Page, on our Twitter feed or on LinkedIn. And don’t forget to subscribe to the monthly Patrick Parker Realty HOME ADVICE eNewsletter for articles, tips and guides like this delivered straight to your inbox.
27 New Year’s Resolutions for Homeowners
Heading into a new year, we feel an obligation to make resolutions.
Personal resolutions can be motivating, exciting or just plain silly. This year I will… eat healthier, save money, run the Long Branch 5K, learn to surf in Monmouth Beach, do the Asbury Park Polar Bear Plunge.
As a homeowner, resolutions can also be empowering. Some are mission-critical for a solid financial year, others maybe fall in the wish list.
Need ideas? This list should get you started:
1. “Lose weight.”
Losing the weight of excess possessions save time (you know, like looking everywhere for your shoes in a cluttered bedroom), money (where did I put that bill?) and your mind (psychologists agree that clutter and stress go hand-in-hand).
2. Get organized.
The logical next step to decluttering is to find a logical place for what’s left.
Need inspiration? Walk through a home storage store or get yourself on Pinterest for some seriously clever organizational ideas.
3. Save energy.
Saving energy is good for the planet and it’s also great for your pocketbook. EnergyStar appliances are just the start.
• LED bulbs are much more efficient and now come in warmer tones and dimmable options for a more homey feel. Use a lighting calculator to measure energy and cost savings.
• Water heaters expend energy storing hot water. The Department of Energy says tankless water heaters are 8 percent to 34 percent more energy efficient than standard water heaters, depending on usage.
• Going solar no longer has to be ugly roof additions. Have you seen the new Tesla solar tiles?
Saving on energy can even have some great tax implications! Check out our article on the best energy enhancements for optimal tax write-offs.
4. Build green.
Going green is more than energy usage. It’s also about sustainability and healthful choices in finishes.
• Change out laminates and carpets for natural hard surfaces.
• Remove asbestos (with a professional).
• Use sustainable and recycled materials like bamboo, cork and Vetrazzo.
• Need to paint? Go with a low- or no-VOC non-toxic paint.
• If you’re texturizing a wall, try Earth plaster instead of gypsum.
5. Get healthy.
Create a workout space, so there’s no excuse when the weather turns. If you’re looking to move, check out neighborhoods with nearby trails, fitness centers and amenities.
6. Just fix it.
You’ve walked by that broken switch plate how many times?
Go through the house like a home inspector and create a checklist of repairs that need to be done. When it comes time to sell and appraise your house, you’ll be glad these were done.
7. Set yourself (debt) free.
Those who carry debt and struggle to pay it off are twice as likely to develop mental health problems, according to a study by John Gathergood of the University of Nottingham.
Paying off debt sets you free in so many ways, plus it’s great for your credit score. Think of all the things you could do in the future with the money you save on payments and interest (maybe even pay off your home early — see #20).
8. Remodel right.
Is it time to update a dated bathroom? Replace the garage door?
If you’re wondering what improvements will lead to a better return on investment when you sell, check out our article on which home renovations offer the greatest return on investment. Our Agent’s can also tell you what improvements are best for your neighborhood and house type.
9. Maximize your mortgage.
A recent Zillow study showed that Americans spent more time researching a car purchase than their home loan. Since the Fed announced that it’s planning three rate hikes in 2017, it’s wise to refi sooner than later.
Have you reached the loan-to-value needed to remove your mortgage insurance? Make an appointment to talk to a lender for a mortgage checkup.
10. Learn to DIY.
The more minor fixes (and if you’re really skilled, major fixes) you can do yourself, the more money you save.
11. Plan to maintain.
Create a maintenance calendar to remember those routine maintenance tasks, such as replacing furnace air filters, changing smoke detector batteries and winterizing sprinklers.
Whether it’s a paper calendar or your iCal on your phone, plan out scheduled maintenance so you won’t hear that relentless beeping of the smoke detector in the middle of the night — or run out of propane before the steaks are done (tragedy!).
Is this the year to buy a rental property? Or a vacation home?
This will really require you to understand your financial situation, so talk to your financial advisor and an Agent who understands investment properties.
13. Take an inventory.
That new flat screen television and 360 viewer you got for Christmas are going to need coverage. If disaster happens, do you really know what’s in your house?
14. Do the double check.
The Insurance Information Institute says a standard policy covers the structure and possessions against fire, hurricanes, wind, hail, lightning, theft and vandalism.
Most other disasters are add-ons. Talk to your insurance agent and make sure you have not only enough property coverage but also enough liability coverage.
15. Get a “CLUE”.
Your homeowners’ insurance premiums are dependent on a number of factors, such as credit score and the Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange (CLUE) report of claim history.
You can request a free report from LexisNexis.
16. Make your neighborhood better.
Get involved with your local HOA, neighborhood watch or community events. The first step to a better neighborhood is your personal involvement.
For news, information about issues that effect your community and to keep in touch with your neighbors; you can also join the Community Facebook Pages and Group we maintain. Like the Bradley Beach, New Jersey Facebook Page or join the Groups for Bradley Beach, NJ Residents, Ocean Township, NJ Residents or our Jersey Shore and Monmouth County Lifestyle Group.
17. Save water.
Dry climate areas struggle for water in dense population centers. Watering restrictions can turn your grass brown and overuse can cost you with tiered billing. Even the New Jersey climates experience seasonal droughts or below average reservoir levels.
Xeriscape what you can outside and look for indoor appliances that use less water. If you live in a state with conservation legislation, get those regulators on your shower heads and hoses.
18. Get dirty.
Landscaping is essential to curb appeal. So this year, really plan to keep up with it or think about going to a more easy-care style.
Out back, consider a garden to save money on better produce. Get a composter for garden and food waste.
19. Plan for emergencies.
Natural disasters and social disruptions are unwanted, but they happen. To be ready, you actually need to prepare!
Do you have a family evacuation plan? Emergency supplies? Go to ready.gov for a ton of ideas on prevention and disaster preparedness.
20. Get smart.
Smart home features make your home more efficient and easy to use, even remotely. Look for these to be the “wow” factor that could make your house stand out. Who doesn’t love Alexa-enabled appliances?
21. Make extra mortgage payments.
You can take thousands of dollars and years off your mortgage by putting an extra amount towards the principal each month. For a $400,000 at 4.25 percent interest with 25 of its 30 years left, you could save $21,107 and take two years off by paying an extra $100 per month.
RELATED: How To Pay Your Mortgage Off Early
What could you save? Try Bankrate’s handy extra payment calculator.
22. Pay off your second mortgage.
Whether it’s a one- or multiple-year plan, it won’t happen if you don’t budget for it.
23. Scrutinize your property tax.
If you live in an area where your home value has dropped since the last assessment, you need to really look at that bill.
Is the assessment correct? Is it going up faster than the sale prices of comparable homes? You can appeal via your local appraisal review board.
24. Optimize your withholding.
If you’re a first-time homeowner, you’re going to enjoy those new deductions. Be sure to talk to your tax advisor about adjusting your paycheck withholding accordingly (unless you like Uncle Sam making money off your income instead of you!).
25. Pay bills, especially your mortgage, on time.
It goes a long way to improving your credit. “The longer bills are paid on time, the higher the FICO Score should rise,” says myFICO. “That’s because as recent “good payment” patterns appear on a credit report, the impact of past credit problems on a FICO Score fade.”
26. Cook dinner.
You know that fabulous kitchen you had to have when you bought your home? Use it!
The USDA’s 2016-17 Food Price Outlook shows the price of groceries decreased in 2016, with a less than 1.5 percent increase in 2017, but restaurants will continue to climb beyond 2016’s 2.4 percent increase.
You’ll also eat healthier at home by controlling what goes into your body. If you own a home with a less-than-stellar kitchen, cooking will probably motivate you to make some appliance and feature upgrades that will pay off when you sell.
27. Get hip.
Dated cabinets and 1980s fixtures don’t help your resale value. Evaluate your style and start looking at upcoming (not past) trends.
Although we’re still in a “sellers’ market” that will likely change in the next few years. A modern home (unless it’s a historic property) is simply more appealing and makes the buyer feel like it’s move-in ready.
Your house is your biggest asset. While not all of these resolutions are essential, aim to start out by focusing on your mortgage and personal finances. What do you have to add? Where might you start? Sound off on the Patrick Parker Realty Facebook Page, on our Twitter or LinkedIn feeds. And don’t forget to sign up for our monthly HOME ADVICE eNewsletter for articles like this one delivered straight to your inbox.
Here’s to a healthier, happier and successful New Year!
10 Low-Cost Tweaks to Help Your Home Sell
Many homeowners won’t even consider listing their home, because they can’t afford extensive remodeling to get it ready for sale. But sometimes it’s not the major renovations that buyers notice.
Consider this checklist of cheaper to-do’s before hanging that for-sale sign.
1. Quick-clean the exterior and landscape.
They don’t call it curb appeal for nothing. Check for loose or clogged gutters and broken or missing flashing materials, which help prevent leaks behind the gutters. Cut the lawn and trim the bushes. Make sure the garage doors open and close properly. Wipe down lawn furniture. Fix any dangling shutters.
Estimated costs: Completely replacing gutters can be expensive; replacing just parts is more economical. A 10-foot gutter starts at $6; downspouts start at $8. High-end garage doors cost $1,000, but a decorative garage door hardware kit starts at $19.
2. Make that door (and doorbell) stand out.
Many homeowners don’t come in through the front door, but prospective buyers do. If you’ve ever gone house hunting you know it takes a moment for your Realtor to get inside that lockbox to get the door open. During this time, buyer’s are sizing up the immediate exterior. Fix cracked or peeling doorways with a fresh coat of paint and be sure the bell actually rings.
Estimated costs: Exterior paints start at $30 a gallon; doorbells are $10 and up.
FREE DOWNLOAD: The Ultimate Guide to Selling Your House
3. Evaluate every entrance.
It’s not just the front door that will get the once-over. Doors offer a huge bang for the buck visually, so update interior doors or at least replace hinges and knobs. Junky bifolds with double-swing or heavier solid-core doors can also stand to be replaced.
Estimated costs: Bronze door hinges can cost $3; solid-core, unfinished pine interior doors start at $99.
4. Look down.
People walk in and wipe their feet. One of the first things they’ll notice is the condition of the floor, says Goode. Stained carpets, raggedy rugs and scratched floors are fairly easy fixes.
Estimated costs: You can rent a carpet steam cleaner for $60; the cost of area rugs varies significantly.
5. Select the right scent.
Beware the four most dreaded words in real estate: “What is that smell?” Buyers will associate musty odors with mold damage or disrepair, so eliminate any nose agitators. Clean out litter boxes, make sure your animals are bathed, banish the kids’ stinky sports equipment to the basement or garage, and throw out that science experiment in the fridge. Find one scent (or complementing scents) you love and use it throughout the house to avoid scent overload.
Estimated costs: Scented candles can cost $10; plug-in odor eliminators start at $17.
6. Spot treat any blemishes.
Walls are an excellent canvas, but they also clearly display age, dirt, indifference, even foundation issues. Fix any scuff marks, nail holes and paint cracks. Remove all peeling wallpaper and repaint in neutrals to maximize the natural light.
Estimated costs: Spackling paste starts at $18; interior paint costs $28 a gallon and up.
7. Have a place for everything.
If buyers see that your stuff doesn’t have a home, they won’t want your home. Make sure anything that’s not on display — shoes, coats, papers, pots, pans — is tucked away and neatly organized.
When closet space is at a premium, repurpose other areas for storage. Finish the garage walls and floors and add some simple storage to make the room part of the home. This can yield great return on investmet!
Estimated costs: Attractive bins and baskets cost $20 and up; basic shelving systems start at $200.
8. Check the tracks. You may no longer notice that lopsided utensils drawer, but potential buyers will. New cabinetry may be out of the question, but fix bent drawer tracks and slides, replace dangling pulls and tighten screws and handles.
Estimated costs: Basic rail-drawer-track kits start at $3; decorative cabinet knobs start at $4 each.
9. Give the appliances some elbow grease.
Buyers want stoves that shine, not evidence of last week’s tuna casserole. Clean the oven, refrigerator, microwave, sink and any other appliance that will be included in the purchase of the home.
Estimated costs: Most cleaning products start at $4; elbow grease is free.
10. Finish with finishes.
Bathroom gut jobs can be pricey, but replacing finishing elements such as faucets, showerheads, towel racks and toilet paper holders can significantly brighten a room. If you have polished chrome faucets or shower valves, you can pick up any chrome accessories and they will match, unlike satin nickel or oil-rubbed bronze. New shower curtains, towels and mats will also help the room look updated and clean.
Estimated costs: Showerheads can cost $40 and up; bath towels start at $10; faucets are $70 and up.
What tips do you have for sprucing up the home on a budget? Sound off on the Patrick Parker Realty Facebook Page, on our Twitter feed or on LinkedIn. And don’t forget to subscribe to the monthly Patrick Parker Realty HOME ADVICE eNewsletter for articles, tips and guides like this delivered straight to your inbox.
How To Hack Your Electric Bill
Want to know how to save electricity? These hacks can help save you cash too.
You turn off the lights when you leave a room. You unplug small appliances when they aren’t in use. You think you’re being pretty smart about your energy consumption, yet every month your electric bill keeps creeping up. You shudder to think how high it could go in the summer months. You’re not alone. On average, American households spend $110 a month on their electric bill.
Before you start plotting a move to cooler climes, find out how to save electricity with these hacks and then start focusing on more fun tasks — like what to do with all of the money you’re saving!
1. Identify the “energy vampires” in your home
“Appliances that use a remote control, have a continuous display, or have an external power supply all continue to use energy, even when they’re turned off,” says Gene Wang, CEO and co-founder of People Power, a company that provides apps, cloud, and mobile service.
Translation: Simply remembering to turn off your plasma TV isn’t enough. According to Wang, even when it’s turned off, a TV still sucks up 1,400 kilowatt-hours annually, which could mean an extra $150 per year added to your bill. Invest in a smart power strip and plug like-used devices such as TVs, game consoles, and cable boxes into the same one, advises Wang. Not only will the device cut off phantom power, but it can also be set to turn on and off automatically.
2. Invest in a power monitor to optimize energy usage times
“You want to use power when the energy rates are lower and there’s less demand on the power grid,” says Joel Worthington, president of Mr. Electric LLC, an international electrical installation and repair company. A power monitor can help you figure out how much energy you’re using throughout the day so that you can make changes accordingly. For example, you may find it’s more economical to run the dishwasher just before bedtime.
3. Wash clothes in cold water and line-dry
According to Project Laundry List, if you dry four loads of laundry in an electric dryer per week, it’ll cost you an extra $110 per year (that’s basically a membership to Hulu). Wash your clothes in cold water whenever possible and then hang them to dry on your own DIY version of an indoor clothesline (if DIY isn’t your thing, check out laundrylist.org for ready-made products for line-drying inside).
4. Use small appliances for small meals
Eating alone? Heat up your food in a toaster oven, which can use up to half as much energy as an electric oven. In the mood for a cup of tea? Heat the water in an electric kettle rather than turning on a stove burner. And when you do use your stove-top, be sure to use the burner closest to the size of your pot. According to SmarterHouse.org, “a 6-inch pan on an 8-inch burner wastes over 40% of the heat produced by the burner.”
5. Install motion-activated power outlets
Can’t remember whether you unplugged your curling iron before you left the house? Use a motion-activated outlet adapter. It will automatically turn off a gadget or appliance that’s plugged into the adapter when it senses no one is in the room using it, says Worthington. If you’re a renter, mention this option to your landlord, who will probably be only too happy to reduce wasted energy use (and potentially prevent fires too).
6. Stock your fridge
Not only will your stomach thank you, but also a full refrigerator requires less energy to stay cool than an empty one. And while you’re at it, be sure to gently vacuum the coils twice a year. “Dust makes the coils heat up and work harder,” says Worthington. The harder your fridge works, the more money you’ll ultimately spend on your electric bill.
7. Take advantage of solar gain
Why heat or cool a room if you aren’t using it? In the summer months, keep shades drawn during the hours when sun exposure is highest. In cooler months, let the sunlight in, which will give your bulbs — and wallet — a break. Keep air vents closed too.
RELATED: How to ‘Green Your Home’
8. Convert to LED bulbs
Yes, they’re more expensive upfront — an LED light bulb costs about $8 per bulb, whereas an incandescent is around a buck — but an LED bulb will last a whopping 25,000 hours (or almost 23 years, assuming three hours of use per day) compared with 1,000 hours for a regular old bulb. Not to mention that in that same 23-year timespan, an average bulb will cost you $180 in electricity at the current average rate, compared with just $30 with an LED bulb. Renters can take the bulbs to their next place to continue the savings.
9. Adjust the temperature of your water heater
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, heating water accounts for 10% to 15% of energy consumption in your home. Most water heaters are preset to 140 degrees, which is way more heat — and expense — than you need. Worthington advises turning yours down to 120 degrees, which can save you 6% to 10% each year on your heating costs.
Renters: Don’t try this alone. This is the kind of task that your landlord should handle; ask your landlord to dial it down for you.
What are your tips when friends ask for advice on how to save electricity? How do you lower your electric bill? Share your hacks on the Patrick Parker Realty Facebook Page, Twitter Feed or on LinkedIn. Plus don’t forget to subscribe to the monthly Patrick Parker Realty email newsletter for articles like this one delivered straight to your inbox.
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