Homecare

How to start organizing your home

by: Karl Thompson

Where do I start organizing my home? While some home organization specialists will tell you to start in the kitchen, I'm going to advise beginning in another area. The kitchen will be the third place we attack and this doesn't make it less important, but I will explain why I'm starting elsewhere.

First, if you look around your home, you probably see lots of clothes. Am I right? You've got clothes in closets, you've got clothes in piles (meaning to put them away and not having time, eventually just pulling them out of the pile and wearing them), and you've got clothes in laundry baskets. You might even have rumpled clothes in the dryer or (heaven forbid!) the washer. If it's the former, the clothes are only rumpled. If it's the latter, they're probably rumpled AND smelly and (potentially) mildew-y. Yuck! If you don't have a laundry room but have a laundry closet (with room for the washer, dryer, and some shelves), I'm betting you haven't seen the top of your dryer for weeks or even months. It's covered in rumpled clothes and towels, right?

Have you guessed where we're starting? That's right! The laundry area of your home. And here's why: if you get your laundry room cleaned and organized, you'll be much more apt to actually DO the laundry that plagues you and helps your home to be disorganized. And because you won't want to undo the work you've done in the laundry room, you're more likely to fold the laundry when it's done, and put it away. There's something that's a breath of fresh air about a straightened laundry room, sort of like when you walk in to a closet where everything is hanging neatly.

So start with small steps:

Can you see the floor? No? Then pick up what's on the floor and put it in laundry baskets. If you don't have enough laundry baskets to accomplish this, then just sort the things in to piles outside the laundry room. I make piles of light clothes, whites, darks, and towels/rags.

Can you see the top of the dryer? If not, put the excess clothes in the aforementioned piles. Grab one rag to dust and have two plastic grocery bags, one to collect junk, and the other for later. Dust the dryer from the lint leftovers and use a little window cleaner if it doesn't come off readily. Don't neglect the area where the "start" button is, that can be grimy, too!

Ok - now you've got your washer & dryer cleaned off. Congratulations!

Now take a critical look at your supply shelves. Do you have empty bottles or boxes lying around from spent detergent and/or fabric softener? Clean those out. Use that grocery bag that you've put excess dryer lint in and pitch those empties. Then organize what's left. If you need to add things to your shopping list, now is the time?now you know what you've got and what you need to buy. When you organize your supplies, I recommend putting the detergent and any liquid softener above the (gasp!) washer. Make it easy to reach. Put the dryer sheets over or on the dryer why reach more than you have to? If your shelves are higher than you'd like, use the top ledge of your washer & dryer to hold supplies! I've never seen a washer and dryer that didn't butt up to a wall for the electrical plugs they need. So use that space to your advantage. Put the detergent box or bottle on the top of the washer, along with whatever other washing supplies you have.

If you have wire shelves above your washer & dryer, you've got a built-in place to hang a trash bag. Use that extra grocery sack and cut one of the handles in half. Then tie those two ends around some of the wire shelf and use the bag to collect dryer lint and empty containers from your emptied laundry supplies. When it's full, cut it down and put it in the trash and put up a new one.

Now look at your floor. Does it need sweeping? If so, grab a broom and sweep. It won't take you more than 5 minutes and you'll feel much better about your room and your work, especially if something you've just washed falls on the floor as you're transferring stuff to the dryer.

Congratulations! You've done the preliminary work of organizing your home, you've won the battle in your laundry room! Take a 15 minute break and enjoy this victory. Then start the task of doing the excess laundry that you've been collecting, one pile at a time. When the first is done, swap it out immediately to your dryer or to hangers, if that's more appropriate. Take it one pile at a time, in other words, small steps! Soon, you'll find that it really only takes 5-10 minutes to fold warm clothes from the dryer and put them in laundry baskets, ready to transfer to the appropriate rooms, closets, and drawers. Now that you have some extra time, you can start on another room. How to start organizing your home wasn't all that hard afterall!

 

About The Author

Karl Thompson is the owner and webmaster of http://www.home-family-parenting.comwebsite which is a growing 24 category directory of articles and products concerning families and parents in their day-to-day living.

 


How to deter pests the environmentally safe way

Obviously the best way to discourage pests moving into your home is by keeping it clean, tidy, rubbish free, vacuuming and dusting frequently.

But if you have unwanted little critters in your home, we have some environmentally friendly options for you to use as an alternative to insecticides.

Ants - to deter

Spray shelves and surfaces with pennyroyal oil in a little water, or rub directly undiluted. Cut a lemon and place in cupboard corners Place ground cloves in cupboard corners Place cucumber ends near the area A few drops of eucalyptus oil near the area Arrange peppermint or spearmint leaves near the area

To kill them

Combine the following ingredients 600ml water 60g borax 60g boracic acid Place in a pot and heat to make a syrup. Then get a plastic soft drink / soda bottle with a lid, soak cotton wool in the syrup and put them through the top, put the lid on a cut a hole in the side of the bottle for the ants to enter as they pass by.

Mice - to deter

Ensure all food is packed in metal or glass containers. Place pots of mint in the kitchen Hang mint or tansy in the kitchen cupboards Oil of peppermint rubbed around the places you think the mice may live.

To kill them

Use traps, mice love cheese, peanut butter, bacon, rats love Brazil nuts. Remember to check your traps regularly to get rid of any dead mice or rats.

Cockroaches - to deter

Sprinkle pyrethrum powder or oil around where they have invaded Put cucumber ends in the cupboards, leave them until they are dried up, and then replace them with new. Dust boracic acid in cupboards Mix powdered borax and sugar and sprinkle around the refrigerator and stove oven Use a soft drink / soda bottle with a hole cut in it for the cockroaches to enter, place 5% Borax in sugar in the bottle. Wipe eucalyptus oil around cupboards Soak a rag in beer and leave out over night in a shallow dish.

Flies - to deter

Leave bay leaves on the windowsill Leave crushed mint out on the bench Camphor tablets can be positioned by rubbish / garbage bins. Hang leaves or place in a vase, lavender, pennyroyal or rue, rub often to release the scent. A pot of growing basil in the kitchen Small pots of tansy To catch flies make sticky honey paper! Take some yellow paper and spread with honey. Or run around the house with a fly swat.

Mosquitoes - to deter

Ensure you have no still water around your home outside as they breed in water. Natural repellants for your body, baby oil, citronella, castor oil or lavender oil rubbed on the skin. (Check bottle for correct amounts). To repel use citronella or pyrethrum candles, mosquito nets or coils. Mosquitoes don't like basil, so grow the herb in pots and place strategically.


10 Essential Fall Tasks
Plan ahead to save time and energy

If your time is at a premium and you need to prioritize what needs to be done around the house before winter sets in, the following list of essential tasks might help. Once you have these covered, read a comprehensive Fall Checklist for additional chores to securely batten down the hatches for the darkest part of the year.

  1. If you have a fireplace or woodstove, lay in a supply of wood as early as you can. Burn dry, dry wood. Keep fires small and hot to reduce buildup in chimneys.

    Store wood where it is dry but has good air flow. A covered shed is ideal, but a loose tarp can work just as well. Make sure it’s stacked off the ground to keep the bottom course clean and dry. Wet wood attracts insects. Don’t stack your wood right next to the house; leave at least a gap of a couple inches to avoid creating an insect highway to your home’s interior.
  2. Make sure that any backup heating source—such as a gas fireplace, woodstove, or pellet stove—is in good working order. For wood burning fireplaces and woodstoves, have your chimney cleaned regularly. The more you burn, the more often you should have your chimney cleaned.

    If you burn one-half to a full cord of wood a year, every two years for cleaning is probably okay if your wood has had at least a year to season. The greener the wood, the faster creosote builds up. Creosote can cause a chimney fire so it's not something you want to let go. Read more on chimney maintenance.
  3. Clean your gutters. It’s one of those chores that no one likes but must be done. In the fall, you may find it necessary to clean a couple times depending on what types of trees you have near the house.
  4. Make sure downspouts are free flowing and splash blocks direct water well away from the foundation.
  5. Check the roof and make any small roof repairs now. This is another important task. At the same time check ridge vents and make sure they are clear of any obstructions.
  6. Trees, bushes, and other foundation plantings need to be trimmed back away from the house. Any dead or diseased branches on trees need to be removed. This prevents bugs from taking up residence in your home, and reduces damage to siding, roofs, and gutters from whipping branches. In other words, nothing should be touching your house.
  7. Have your heating system serviced if you haven’t done it in a while. There is nothing worse than having the heat go off when it’s 25 degrees outside. And it always seems to happen to too many other people at the same time, so you have to wait and shiver until the heating guy shows up.
  8. Check your smoke alarm and make sure it’s functioning. If you have a carbon-monoxide detector, check it at the same time.
  9. Weatherize your home. Caulk joints where materials meet. The US Department of Energy says if you can pull a piece of paper out of a closed door without tearing you're losing energy, so check and replace weather stripping on all doors and windows. Install foam inserts in electrical receptacles on exterior walls. 
  10. Set up your 72-hour stock of emergency provisions. Allocate a space; keep everything you’ll need in case the power goes off there. The Red Cross has a comprehensive list of recommended items.

There are many more tasks to do and this list of essentials may vary depending on your home and its requirements. Our monthly checklists and a comprehensive Fall Checklistshould help you prioritize your seasonal chores.


7 Tips to Keep Your Hardwood Floor Looking Its Best

by: Rob Buenaventura

Many people choose hardwood flooring because it is easy to maintain and keep looking great. True, you will not have to worry about hardwood staining if you spill grape juice on it, as you do with carpet. However, there are a few things that you need to remember when you are dealing with hardwood. Once you have spent a great deal of time and money on your beautiful hardwood floor, you will want to keep it looking fantastic. Many people choose hardwood flooring because it is easy to maintain and keep looking great. True, you will not have to worry about hardwood staining if you spill grape juice on it, as you do with carpet. However, there are a few things that you need to remember when you are dealing with hardwood.

  1. The most important cleaning tip for hardwood is preventative maintenance. By cleaning your floors regularly and sweeping or vacuuming dirt and debris, you will save yourself a lot of time and expense in the long run.
  2. Wipe up any spills as soon as they occur. Although you will not have an instant stain when you spill on hardwood floor as you do with carpet, you may expose your hardwood to staining if you do not wipe up spills in a timely fashion. Once stains have a chance to set into the hardwood you may have to refinish the floor in order to get the stain out.
  3. Sweep your floor everyday or as needed. It is important to sweep up any dirt or debris off of your floor as necessary so that the dirt doesn’t scratch the wood. This will vary from house to house of course. If you have a high traffic home, you may need to sweep a few times a day. Although, you may only need to sweep every few days.
  4. Use a hardwood cleaner once a week to keep your floor looking its best. Hardwood floor cleaners are available at any home improvement center or at a flooring center. They are quite easy to use, and with a little preventative maintenance, you will thank yourself in the future. Simply spray the cleaner on and use a cloth or hardwood broom to buff the floor gently.
  5. Never use water and soap when cleaning your hardwood. Hardwood is not like linoleum or even laminate flooring and you cannot use a bucket of sudsy, soapy water to clean it. In fact, you can damage your floor if you try to mop it in a traditional style. Because wood is susceptible to water damage, you want to minimize the contact that your floor has with water. Water will seep into the cracks of the boards and can cause swelling, discoloration and deformation of the boards.
  6. Protect your floor from furniture scratches and gouges. It is a very good idea to place felt on the bottom of all of your furniture in order to protect it from scratches. This is particularly important for furniture pieces that move a great deal such as your kitchen chairs. But it is a good idea to protect all pieces equally. You can purchase felt at the local hardware store, and cut it to size to fit the bottom of every piece of furniture that you have.
  7. Polish your floor regularly. If you have a hardwood floor with a wax finish, you may want to wax it on a regular basis to keep it looking shiny and new. The waxing process will also will also help buff any scratches out of your floor as well. Every wax product is different so it is important to read the directions carefully and also consult the manufactures guidelines of your flooring before applying any wax product.

With a little bit of preventative maintenance and some common sense, you will be able to keep your hardwood floor looking fabulous for many years. There are only a few simple steps and rules to follow when dealing with hardwood flooring because it is actually one of the easiest flooring types to care for.

 

About The Author
Rob Buenaventura invites you to hardwoodscene.com. Here we provide tips on hardwood refinishing and installation of wood flooring. Find benefits on what to look for when considering a hardwood flooring vacuum, check How To Choose A Hardwood Floor Vacuum.

Dont let your Equity DECREASE!!....Do your Repairs!

by: Johnathan Bakers

It is very important that problems within your home are taken care of as they arise, instead of allowing them to fester. Significant or even minor repairs that need to be done to your home need to be taken care of as they stand to compound issues of aesthetics and function, and this in turn will effect the equity of your home. Although home improvement projects will add value to your home through the addition of new features or through remodeling, home repair is just as essential in ensuring the continued value of your home.

Allowing problems to remain increases the risk of damage to your house. Leaky faucets may end up causing damage to your floor's underlay and to your basement ceilings, as well as costing you money in terms of water bills. Holes in the wall are unsightly, and are also prone to growing as well as allowing things that might rot to get into the walls of your home. Gunk that builds up on your bathroom tiles and walls is a great place for harmful molds and other singel celled organisms to breed and spread. In other words, even small problems will detract from the value and the enjoyment of your home, and they have the potential to grow into big disasters. Fixing the problem when it arises could mean that you save hundreds of dollars in potential damages to your property.

For all three of these common problems, the repair solutions are simple. Leaky faucets require whoever is doing the repairs to find the water shutoff valve before installing the faucet. After you locate this, then the rest of the project is smooth sailing.

As far as bathroom buildup, the key ingredient required is a little bit of elbow grease. If you find that the buildup still will not come up no matter how hard you scrub, you might have to think about replacing some parts of the tile. Sometimes, the buildup is so bad that it is actually necessary to install a whole new unit. Fortunately, this is made easier by the widespread availability of shower kits.

Shower kits are pretty inexpensive, but they add a lot of value to your home right away. These kits require a few tools to install, such as sealant, nails, cement, screwdrivers, cutters, primers, and piping. Gather all of the tools and the materials that were included with the shower kit together within your workspace, in a spot that is as easy to reach as possible from where you are working. Make sure that te water is turned off before commencing work!

Remember that not everyone has an innate ability to do home repair. Do not be afraid to ask a friend or family member for help, or consult one of the many do it yourself books available.

 

About The Author

Johnathan Bakers frequently pens summaries on topics related to kitchen cabinet and countertops. You can see his articles over at kitchen-cabinets-tips.com and various other sources for kitchen faucets news.


How to Clean Grout in Floors
by: Steve Hanson

Restroom cleanliness is one of the most common complaints cleaning companies receive. When cleaning restrooms, keep in mind that they should not only look clean, but that they should feel and smell clean. An important part in maintaining a high level of cleanliness is making sure the floor grout is clean. Grout is porous, so over time, moisture, contaminants, and even dirty mop water can discolor it. These circumstances can lead to staining, odors, and aid in the growth of bacteria, mold, and mildew.

There are several reasons is it so difficult to clean floor grout:

  • Using a cleaner that doesn't float contaminates to the surface.
  • Using a cleaner that contains detergents that settle into the grout with dirt and oils.
  • Sealers may have been improperly used in the past. Instead of keeping out dirt and oils, these may now be trapped in the grout.
  • Acidic or high pH cleaners make grout more porous and fragile with the result being the grout re-soils faster.
  • Cleaners used in the past may have left residues that become dirt magnets.

 

Before starting to clean tile and grout it is important to analyze what dirt and contaminants you're dealing with. Then based on that information, select a cleaner designed for cleaning that type of soil and is suitable for the flooring being cleaned.

Using the right cleaner and using it correctly are important steps to keeping grout clean. To avoid soap scum, daily cleaners must be salt free. When deep cleaning, the cleaner needs to be free of high levels of potassium and sodium salts. The cleaner you use must be able to float contamination up as well as transfer it to the mop so the grout comes clean. Carefully consider the pH of the product you are using. Acidic based cleaners (low pH) bleach rather than clean and basic cleaners (high pH) tend to be high in salts. Be cautious about the use of citrus products. Many of these products leave unwanted residues that make floors feel sticky. It is important to use the right chemical as bacteria can get trapped into grout and tile. It may be necessary to use a germicide cleaner, especially around toilets and urinals, to kill bacteria and remove any urine that has dried into the grout or tile.

Cleaning grout is often labor-intensive at times even requiring scrubbing by hand, which may not be practical in a large restroom. There are procedures you can follow to help keep grout clean. First, use a chemical proportioning system to dilute chemicals accurately. When you use too much chemical, sealants break down faster. Second, have adequate ventilation to help prevent the build up of odors and speed up drying. Frequent changing of mop water and mop heads helps to make sure that contaminants are picked up and not pushed back into the grout. Consider switching to microfiber mops as they have proven to be the most effective at removing contaminants from floor surfaces.

When cleaning, liberally apply chemicals and don't allow the floor to dry before scrubbing. Always allow proper dwell time, which is typically between 5 and 10 minutes. The next step is to use the right tool to scrub the floor surface. To effectively clean the surfaces use floor brushes. After thoroughly scrubbing the floor, remove the excess liquid. A wet vacuum works well as it will pick up the excess water, dirt, residue and cleaning chemical used on the floor.

New and innovative equipment can also make cleaning grout faster. High-pressure water systems (up to 1200 psi) can effectively deep clean, loosen, and remove soil. Some systems also heat the water, which aids in the cleaning process. Grout cleaning systems also have auto-feed/auto-dump capabilities so you can use them continuously without stopping. The machines pick up loosened soil and leave no residue. Another option is using cylindrical brush technology. These machines do not use pads like rotary buffers, but instead use rotating brushes. These brushes penetrate and loosen the dirt in grout and tile.

To keep grout and tile looking their best it is important to train your staff and make sure they continue to follow the proper procedures when cleaning grout. Having written procedures and checklists can help to assure the proper cleaning techniques are always followed.

Lack of attention, carelessness, and the wrong types of cleaners used will lead to dirty grout and the entire floor looking dull and dingy. Paying attention and spending a little extra time when cleaning grout will keep not only the floor, but the entire restroom, looking and smelling clean.

Copyright (c) 2006 The Janitorial Store

 

About The Author
Steve Hanson is co-founder of TheJanitorialStore.com, an online community for owners of cleaning companies. Sign up for Trash Talk:Tip of the Week at TheJanitorialStore.com. Read success stories at http://www.cleaning-success.com.

Hire Licensed and Respected Home Improvement Companies

Finding the right home improvement company to update or renovate your home doesn’t have to be a stressful and disheartening process. Yet most homeowners have no idea where to start because they are bombarded with bad press about contractors who are dishonest, inexperienced and downright unreliable. Homeowners today are wary of who they can trust.

Home Improvement Complaints and Scams:

"With lower-rate mortgages tempting homeowners to trade up to a bigger house, or to refinance and expand or repair their existing home, we're finding that construction and home improvement activity is way up, and with it is the number of complaints in those areas," said Consumer Protection Commissioner Edwin R. Rodriguez. (Consumer Affairs, January 2006)

"Home improvement complaints rank as the top consumer complaint in Connecticut and elsewhere across the country," Rodriguez said. "While home improvements themselves can be expensive, any problems that arise often cost consumers thousands more to fix. Unfortunately, there have been many cases where a homeowner is left with a huge problem and has no financial means of getting it repaired." (Consumer Affairs, June 2006)

Basic scams usually do not occur with accredited companies, so make sure the company you use is licensed. "The law requires home improvement contractors to register and follow certain procedures for a reason, to protect homeowners," Rodriguez said. "This includes complying with state laws that assure consumers a level of financial protection.” (Consumer Affairs, June 2006)

Be Wary of Certain Sales Tactics:

According to the National Consumer Law Center at consumerlaw.org, unscrupulous contractors mostly target senior citizens. Do not fall into the trap of the following sales tactics that take advantage of homeowners:

  • "Bait and Switch" - offers low prices for installed items like windows and home siding, and then tells the homeowner the item is out of stock and can only be replaced with a high-priced substitute.

  • Misrepresent the urgency of a needed repair.

  • Claim the item is more expensive than advertised because it has to be "custom made" to fit the home.

  • Misrepresent that the consumer is receiving a discount because the home is selected to model the repair when, in reality, the consumer is paying market price or more.

  • Misrepresent the energy savings, health benefits and value added to the home.

  • Misrepresent the terms on which financing is likely to be arranged.

Practices to Follow for Finding the Right Contractor:

If you hire a contractor with a license and a good reputation (such as the Home Remodelers Group®), you are guaranteed to avoid unfinished work, financial wrongdoing and fraud. The National Consumer Law Center has a list of suggestions for homeowners looking for a home improvement company:

  • Do not hire an unknown contractor that solicits business by knocking on your door. Deal with companies recommended by friends or reputable building supply stores.
  • Before agreeing to hire any home improvement contractor, get a second estimate for the same work from another contractor.
  • Get references for the contractor and speak to those references. Ask about satisfaction and any problems that arose.
  • Look at other work performed by the same contractor.
  • Many states require contractors to be licensed and/or bonded. Check with the state licensing body to see if the contractor you are considering is licensed.
  • Get a written contract describing explicit specifications of the work, the price (including details of any financing or credit terms), the responsibility for cleaning up, and the hourly rate for any added work. Ask for guarantees and other promises to be made in writing.
  • If the written documents are different from oral promises, do not sign them.
  • A 3-day right-to-cancel applies to door-to-door sales and home improvement loans even after the papers have been signed.
  • Do not allow a contractor to begin work until financial arrangements to pay for the work are complete.
  • Do not agree to pay the final payment until the project is finished.
  • Do not consolidate other debts with a home improvement loan.
  • If problems with a contractor or home improvement lender arise, get help from a lawyer or housing counselor immediately.

Take Care of Your Home:

The Home Remodelers Group® has been in business since 1964 and there is a simple reason for our longevity. We take great pride in helping our customers beautify their homes, we enjoy our work and we want our customers to be happy with their homes. The Home Remodelers Goup® is licensed and insured so you can feel secure when working with us. Before you sign any contract, we provide a written estimate and detailed information on the scope of the project. You’ll know exactly what you are getting before we do anything. We do this to provide our customers with peace of mind. We have survived in this business because we focus on customer satisfaction, attention to customer service and offer quality products at a fair price.

Think of your home like a child that needs a doctor. You would take your child to a licensed and professional doctor, not someone that comes to your door. So make sure your home receives the care it deserves by hiring experienced and well-accredited home improvement professionals.

For more articles visit: http://www.homeremodelersgroup.com


Repairing Wood Window Sills

All across the country, many homes that were built before the 1960's have wood sash windows. These windows have sloped wood sills outside to drain water away from the window. In addition, there is wood trim on the sides and across the top of each window. By replacing the wood sashes with a vinyl pocket window, the energy efficiency of the window increases tremendously, drastically reducing heating costs during the cold winter months. Another benefit of the vinyl windows is the fact that they are virtually maintenance free. No more painting or having to recondition them like you do with wood.

But, what about the wood that surrounds your windows on the outside? You have that wood sill on the bottom, and the brick molding around the edge of the opening. You still have to maintain that periodically or, in some cases, replace it due to deterioration. One of the solutions to the problem is to wrap the wood with aluminum. Certainly, aluminum is a more durable material than wood. But, aluminum has to be painted, so you are still dealing with a paint issue. Also, a homeowner cannot install the aluminum without a special bending tool and the knowledge of how to use it properly. So, you have to hire a ptrofessional. But now there is a product that is maintenance free, and can be installed by the homeowner using basic tools. Not only that, but the end result looks better than the aluminum process.

By covering your wood with vinyl, you eliminate the need to ever paint or replace your wood again. Even if you have some rot in the wood, you can repair the damaged wood with filler, then install the vinyl cover, and your window sill will look like new. You need to remove any paint that is peeling before attaching the trim. You cut the sill wrap extrusion with a chopsaw or hacksaw, and you cut it 1 1/2" longer than the sill itself because you have to attach caps on the ends. The sill piece has to be notched to fit around the brick molding on each end. You accomplish that with a jigsaw or hacksaw. You have to use an extreme weather adhesive, like Dynaflex 230 from DAP. If you use an adhesive that can't withstand sub freezing weather, the vinyl can come loose from the wood. The trim that covers the brick molding and surrrounding wood is an L-Shaped piece, and comes in several sizes to fit most applications. It can be ripped down using a table saw, jigsaw, or simple plastic cutting tool. So, no matter what size wood you have around your windows, the L-Angle trim will fit. You can see pictures and learn more about this wrapping process HERE. If you have questions about the process, send them HERE

John Rocco has been installing replacement windows since 1978. To learn more, visit How To Install Windows


More Return on Your Home Improvement Investment

When undertaking large remodeling projects, it is smart to research your local real estate market to find out if your project will return your investment when it is time to sell. Depending on where you live, the right project may return 100% of your investment. That is why research is the smartest way to begin.

Remodeling projects should be done when you are planning on staying in the house for several years rather than starting major work for the sake of trying to increase resale value. Since you can’t guarantee that you will get a decent return, it makes the most sense to remodel when you will be able to enjoy the benefits in the long run; and make minor, more cosmetic changes if selling is your primary goal.

Here is a sample of returns for some of the most popular home improvement projects. Statistics are compiled from multiple published surveys. Based on major cities within states:

  • Kitchen Remodel (minor)-125% (Connecticut)
  • Basement Remodel-98% (California)
  • Bathroom Addition-96% (Missouri)
  • Kitchen Remodel (major)-92% (Kentucky)
  • Bathroom Remodel-90% (Oregon)
  • Exterior Paint-90% (Pennsylvania)
  • Master Bedroom-86% (Florida)

In general, across many markets, kitchen and bathroom remodeling offer the highest percentage return on your investment (80-100%). Bedroom and family room additions offer a fairly high return also. A master bedroom remodel can potentially get a high return. Certain projects such as converting a basement or attic into functional living space varies widely from region to region. The same is true for deck additions.

Repainting the exterior of your home shows decent returns in most markets. When preparing to sell your home, sprucing up your exterior paint is important. Without curb appeal, potential buyers will not even stop or get out of their car to give your house a chance. Repainting is only part of curb appeal. A well-manicured lawn and attractive landscaping will grab buyers’ attention as well.

When considering a remodeling project or addition, you should not only do research in your local market, but also look around your neighborhood. Any improvement you make should be consistent with other homes on your block. An elaborate addition in a modest neighborhood will stick out and will not provide the return you are hoping for based on the fact that someone who can afford the extra money to buy your home will most likely search a more expensive neighborhood.

Along those same lines, keep the original design of your home in mind. Stick with either the same materials or complementing ones. Aim for a flowing congruency so that your home remains tastefully appealing on the inside and out. Think through color scheme and décor in much the same way. Bold, eccentric color schemes that will stay with the house after you sell can deter potential buyers who lean on the conservative side. Being flamboyant with your remodel is a fine idea for those homeowners who plan to stay in their home for years to come. For those of you looking to move in two to three years, choosing neutral colors for floors and walls will benefit you when it’s time to sell.

When trying to decide whether or not you should take the plunge and remodel, think of your own needs. If you absolutely want to add on a deck, go for it. If you have a spacious basement and could use a children’s play area, don’t hesitate. By concentrating completely on the return you might get from a home improvement project, you are limiting your options and basing your decision on a factor that is constantly changing. Depending on the economy, the real estate market in your area, and other factors, your return could be more or less than you expect when it is time to sell. As discussed earlier, the two that consistently offer significant return on investment are kitchens and bathrooms.

Just remember that for the immediate future, you will determine the value of a luxurious bathroom remodel or sunroom addition. The enjoyment of improving your home for the rest of your time living in it might far outweigh what money you get back when it is time to sell. Who knows, you might like your new and improved home more than you thought so that you never want to move!


Is the Grass Always Greener on the Other Side?

Whenever you looked at your neighbor’s yard last summer, perhaps you couldn't help but think, “The grass is always greener on the other side.” Well, don’t despair. I have some tips for growing green lawns, including the proper use of lawn fertilizers, that will make it easy for you to gain some respect for your own grass. Of course, assuming that it is only green grass -- and grass of good pedigree -- that you wish to see carpeting your yard in emerald splendor, weed control is necessarily a part of any collection of tips for growing green lawns. Most homeowners intent on having green lawns will tolerate nary a dandelion weed nor tuft of crabgrass, regardless of its greenery.

Fortunately, applying lawn fertilizers and practicing weed control can be integrated into the same chore – if you play your cards right!

So why do some yards exhibit beautiful green lawns, while in others the greenery always seems to be losing out to encroaching brown spots – rather like a human head of hair succumbing to graying? In a nutshell, all else being the same, the secret of having a green lawn lies in providing sufficient nutrients, practicing effective lawn weed control and following the proper mowing regimen. Of course, the devil is in the details, into which we’ll delve on Page 3. But let me begin by elaborating on that ominous-sounding little clause, “all else being the same.” For it’s important to start out with an even playing field.

First of all, disabuse yourself of any notion you may have that grass is simply grass, and that’s all there is to it. In fact, there’s a lot more to it than that. People grow many different types of grasses in their lawns, and these grasses have different growing requirements. Many factors go into the selection of a type of grass for a particular lawn.

One of the overriding factors is your local climate. The so-called “warm-season” grasses are ideal for the southernmost states in the U.S., whereas “cool-season” grasses predominate in the North and in Canada. In between, for the Eastern U.S., lies the so-called “transition zone,” comprised of zones 6-7. This is a problematic area for growing grass: too hot for some grasses, too cold for others.

Common cool-season grasses include:

  • Bentgrasses
  • Bluegrasses
  • Fescues
  • Ryegrasses

Among the common warm-season grasses are:

  • Bermudagrass
  • Buffalograss
  • Zoysiagrass
  • Centipedegrass
  • Bahiagrass
  • St. Augustinegrass

Note, too, that lawns are not always composed of just one type of grass, but rather of a mixture, to take advantage of the strengths of each type.

The following are examples of other factors that go into your selection of grass type, in addition to local climate (these examples pertain to lawns in the Northern zone and in the transition zone):

  • Shady areas are notorious obstacles to having green lawns. Among cool-season grasses, fine fescues are the most tolerant of shade.
  • Lawn areas with heavy foot traffic require a tough grass. A mix of Kentucky bluegrass and perennial rye will fill the bill here.
  • Some regions are more prone to drought than others. The new, improved strains of Kentucky bluegrass are relatively drought-tolerant.

But in addition to grass-type selection, there are other factors to consider to ensure that you start with a level playing field as you strive to unseat your neighbor for "green lawn" bragging rights.
 

Watering Lawns, Removing Lawn Thatch

So you're intent on growing grass that stays green? Well, in addition to selecting the right type of grass for your yard, two more preliminary questions focus on lawn thatch and watering lawns. Let's consider watering lawns first.

What's the yearly rainfall to be expected in your region? In dry climates, installing an irrigation system is practically de rigueur for growing grass successfully. Meanwhile, in the misty Pacific Northwest, it is understandable that many choose to entrust watering lawns to Mother Nature. For most of the rest of us, the decision of whether or not to have an irrigation system for watering lawns will not be so clear-cut. Cost will be a consideration, but keep in mind that, in the long run, an automatic irrigation system may save you money.

One way or the other, your grass must have sufficient water on a consistent schedule in order for you to achieve the goal of a lush green lawn. If your neighbors are watering lawns with an automatic irrigation system -– and you aren’t -- you’re not starting out with an even playing field. For more information, please consult my FAQ on Irrigation Systems.

Lawn Thatch: Nemesis of Growing Grass Well

Finally, check that your grass isn’t saddled with lawn thatch.

  • If your lawn thatch layer is ½” or less, you may proceed to the tips below.
  • However, much of your effort in implementing the tips supplied below will go for naught, unless you first dethatch (i.e., remove lawn thatch from) a yard with a lawn thatch build-up that exceeds approximately ½”. If you fail to dethatch, you’re not starting out with an even playing field. Why?
    • Because the lawn thatch layer will prevent water from getting to the roots of your grass, effectively nullifying efforts at watering lawns faithfully…
    • and because the lawn thatch layer also furnishes cover for unwanted insect pests.
  • If your lawn thatch build-up is right around ½”, you have a minor lawn thatch problem, for which I present easy solutions in my FAQ on Lawn Thatch. This FAQ also introduces readers to the related issue of core aeration, and to the equipment needed to perform the task.
  • But if you’re lawn thatch layer is, say, ¾” or more, you have a major lawn thatch problem, for which you’ll need the aid of a vertical mower. Vertical mowers can be rented from your local rental center.

With the above preliminary considerations out of the way, we may proceed to the tips for growing grass that will be the envy of the neighborhood. These next tips are much easier to implement than the advice on the present page. With the proper groundwork laid (grass-type selection, irrigation and removal of excessive lawn thatch), the rest is a breeze.
 

A Schedule for Applying Lawn Fertilizers

We finished looking at some of the preliminary concerns of lawn care. It is now time to get to the heart of the matter. As I stated earlier, the secret of having a green lawn lies in providing sufficient nutrients (lawn fertilizers), practicing effective lawn weed control and following the proper mowing regimen. Since it is sometimes possible to apply lawn fertilizers and practice lawn weed control simultaneously, I'll deal with these two tips first, on the present page. On Page 4, we'll take a look at mowing strategies and the reasons behind them.

Lawn Fertilizers and Lawn Weed Control

We know we have to fertilize the tomato plants in our gardens, or the houseplants on our window sills. But it's easy to overlook the necessity of spreading lawn fertilizers over our grass.

Perhaps it is because the individual grass plants toil in anonymity, forming, en masse, an entity we know as "the lawn." We tend to take the grass in our yards for granted, as if it's just supposed to be there -- an outdoor carpet that just gets a trim every once in awhile. But it would be more accurate to think in terms of millions of individual plants craving periodic feedings.

It is best to meet this need for periodic feedings by using lawn fertilizers that are "slow-release" in nature. You'll find such products at your local home improvement store. Because these lawn fertilizers release their nutrients over time, rather than all at once, you're essentially stretching out the feeding. As nutrients are released, the root system of your grass fills in any bare patches. This in itself promotes lawn weed control, depriving weed seeds of a place to germinate. But in addition, there are lawn fertilizers that promote lawn weed control at the same time. Effective lawn weed control should, after all, go hand-in-hand with the application of lawn fertilizers: if the weeds suck up some of the nutrients that you're supplying, those are nutrients being wasted, as they are not going to your grass.

Scotts suggests a four-part schedule for providing periodic feedings of lawn fertilizer. The schedule will depend on where you live and your grass-type; but, as an example, here’s the schedule for a Northern lawn composed of a mixture of bluegrass, ryegrass and fescue:

  • Apply a lawn fertilizer called, “Scotts Turf Builder With Halts Crabgrass Preventer” in May.
  • “Scotts Turf Builder With PLUS 2 Weed Control” can be applied in June. This lawn fertilizer fills the need for additional lawn weed control, as the herbicide component fights everything from ground ivy to purslane to white clover.
  • In July or August, apply “Scotts Super Turf Builder with SummerGuard.” This lawn fertilizer is billed by Scotts as a product that “strengthens and summer-proofs your lawn while combating a spectrum of harsh seasonal threats like insects, heat and drought.”
  • Finally, “Scotts Winterizer Fall Lawn Fertilizer” should be applied in fall. This lawn fertilizer will not only prepare grass for winter, but also give you a head start towards achieving that green lawn you’ll want next spring – bringing us full circle.

Before buying these or any other lawn fertilizers, read the instructions on the bag carefully (or ask someone at the store for details). A particular product may not be suitable for your type of grass. Likewise, when applying lawn fertilizers, follow directions explicitly, concerning how much to apply, how often they should be applied, and under what conditions they should be applied.

Lawn fertilizers are best applied with spreaders. Be advised not to fill the applicator with the spreader parked on the lawn. Doing so invites grass-burn, as you may accidentally discharge too much while loading. Instead, fill the applicator somewhere else, then wheel the spreader onto the lawn.

But there's still one prominent component of growing greener lawns to cover. Next, we'll see how your mowing regimen affects the health of your grass.
 

What to do With Grass Clippings

Would you be surprised to learn that your incentive for mowing the lawn -- and mowing it properly -- goes beyond impressing the neighbors with that "clean-cut" look? Learning from the mowing tips on this page can promote lawn health and help give you a lawn that looks not merely well-kept, but lush. One of the best investments to that end would be in a mulching mower.

Using mulching mowers can not only cut down on your yard maintenance, but also make your grass greener. Otherwise, you may end up either raking or bagging your grass clippings -- which in turn means disposing of those grass clippings or recycling them. All extra work. Besides, hauling away your grass clippings means depriving your lawn of a natural fertilizer that can make your grass greener.

Mowing Height and Grass Clippings

So how long should you wait before cutting the lawn? And how short should you cut the lawn (which is another way of asking, At exactly what mowing height should you set lawnmowers?)? According to the Cornell University Cooperative Extension, cutting the lawn with a lawnmower set at a proper mowing height can save you from having to bag your grass clippings, even if you don't own a mulching mower. The rule of thumb suggested by the Cornell Extension is, "Mow when your grass is dry and 3 to 3-1/2 inches tall. Never cut it shorter then 2 to 2-1/2 inches or remove more than one third of the leaf surface at any one mowing."

The premise behind this mowing tip is that the valuable nutrients in the grass clippings can do your lawn some good, left right where they lie after cutting -- as long as their bulk is kept at a minimum. By following this rule of thumb and cutting only about an inch off the top of your lawn at any one time, the bulk of the grass clippings is kept low.

Employing this mowing tip will entail more frequent cutting, to be sure. But the result will be a healthier lawn, fed by nutrients that you would otherwise be hauling away. Besides, cutting a lawn too short can stress it out, especially during periods of hot weather. In addition, cutting the lawn stimulates growth and increases thickness. Again, think of the lawn not as an amorphous mass but as a vast garden of individual plants. Those plants can profit from "pinching," as can many houseplants or garden flowers.

Note that with mulching mowers, you don't need to be quite so careful about the height at which you cut the lawn, since the grass clippings are shredded up more finely. This works much better for those of us who don't generally walk around with tape measures on our belts! For more information, please consult my product review of mulching mowers

Mowing Tips on "The Cutting Edge": When and How to Mow
  • "The cutting edge": Be sure to keep lawnmower blades sharp. Sharp lawnmower blades produce clean cuts, and clean cuts promote better grass health. Dull lawnmower blades, by contrast, produce rougher cuts that make the grass more susceptible to disease.
  • When to mow: It puts less stress on the lawn to mow in the evening than to mow when the sun is pounding down in the afternoon.
  • How to mow: Alternate the direction in which you mow each lawnmowing session. Using this mowing tip, you will prevent your grass from "getting into a rut" (literally). If your lawnmower wheels pass over the same area in the same direction each time you mow, they'll form ruts over time.