Is your home making you sick?

Would it surprise you to learn that 1.2 million American children have elevated levels of lead in their blood?

Lead poisoning sounds like something from out of the past, like polio or leprosy. But, apparently, it’s still very much in the present, and very, very dangerous.

If your home was built before 1978 the paint on your walls may contain lead. If you purchased the home after 1996, you were made aware of the potential harm from lead-based paint when the seller gave you a Lead Based Paint disclosure, required by law.

So, what’s the big deal about lead?

Lead poisoning for starters. There isn’t a lot of talk about it in the media, but an estimated 412,000 Americans die every year because of lead contamination, according to a study published in Lancet Public Health.

Old paint naturally deteriorates and, as it does, it creates dust. Infants and children can become lead poisoned if they eat contaminated paint chips or put their fingers, contaminated with lead paint dust, into their mouths.

Then, there is the lead in soil which, especially in urban areas, can be quite toxic.

“Lead affects virtually every system in the body”

according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Despite efforts to mitigate the presence of lead in homes, however, the CDC claims that “large numbers of children in the United States continue to have blood lead levels in the toxic range.”

Because babies and toddlers are experience rapid growth, their bodies tend to absorb lead easier than we adults do, and their nervous systems react strongly to it. Lead exposure may result in:

  • Anemia
  • Behavioral problems
  • Coma
  • Death (in severe cases)
  • Hearing problems
  • Learning problems
  • Lower IQ
  • Seizures
  • Slow growth

Adults, however, aren’t immune from the effects of lead exposure. “People with prolonged exposure to lead may also be at risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease, and reduced fertility,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It’s especially dangerous to pregnant women and developing fetuses. Much like how a pregnant woman’s body releases calcium to help form the developing baby’s bones, so too will it release lead if she’s absorbed it in the past. It then crosses the placental barrier, possibly harming the fetus.

How does lead get into the home?

Not only is it present in the aforementioned paint, but we track the nasty dust into our homes via our shoes. The EPA conducted a doormat study that found a 60 percent reduction in levels of lead dust in homes when shoes are removed before entering the home, or a dust mat is provided at the door.

Even the drinking water in our homes and your children’s toys (especially those made in China) may harbor lead.

How to find out if there’s lead in your home

Whether you are considering a home for sale or just need to know if there is lead present in your current home, an accredited laboratory can help you find out.

You can locate one of these laboratories by calling the state Department of Health and supplying the lab with a paint or soil sample. The most important areas to have tested include those the children frequent, such as a playroom, bedroom and areas of the yard in which they play.

Learn more about how to protect your family from lead exposure in the home at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website.

How to prepare your pet for a natural disaster

It’s hurricane season and even the most prepared among us may have let something fall through the cracks. Typically, it’s the pet’s needs during a natural disaster that are left unconsidered. We’ve seen the videos of dogs left chained in a yard, the flood waters quickly surrounding it.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is urging pet owners to include their pets in the natural disaster preparations and we’re sharing some of their tips with you today.

Come up with a plan

If your pet isn’t microchipped, this should be your first step. In lieu of a chip, ensure that your dog has identification tags securely attached to its collar. If your dog is chipped, it’s still a good idea to collar it (with an i.d. tag attached). Taking a found pet to a veterinarian to be scanned for a chip is impossible in many disaster situations.

If your dog is chipped, is your contact information up-to-date?

Then, make a plan for where you will stay if you have to evacuate. Not all emergency shelters allow pets so call your city leaders to find out if the one in your area is pet-friendly. Or, download the FEMA app, which provides a list of open shelters in your area.

If not, consider other places you might go during an evacuation. Some hotels allow pets, so call the ones in towns where you may end up to find out.

HSUS offers the following list of online sites that can help you locate pet-friendly hotels:

For help identifying pet-friendly lodgings, check out these websites:

If all else fails, start contacting boarding facilities and veterinarians to find one that will take your pet in during an emergency.

Create a pet disaster kit

An emergency medical kit for your dog or cat is essential. You can purchase pre-packed kits or make your own. Use the list provided here.

Then, set aside the following supplies in an area that provides you easy access during an emergency:

  • A 7-day supply of food and water for each pet.
  • Food and water bowls
  • Can opener
  • Cat accessories (litter box and litter, scoop, etc.)
  • Leash or harness
  • Pet carrier
  • Photos of each of your pets
  • Medications your pet needs

Prepare the entire family for a possible evacuation, including your pets, by following the advice from the pros at Ready.gov.

The landlord’s guide to 3 maintenance emergencies

It’s 2 a.m. and the phone is ringing.  You know before picking it up that within ten minutes you’ll be fully dressed and in your car, on the way to take care of an emergency repair at your property. It’s the nature of the beast, right?

No matter how well you maintain your rental property, water heaters leak, air conditioning units fail and pipes burst. But, what constitutes a true emergency may be a matter of differing opinion – yours and your tenant’s.

If it affects the habitability of the property, or if it’s a health or safety issue, rest assured that it’s an emergency.

1. Roof emergencies

If you get a call from a tenant that the roof is leaking, it’s an emergency. The experts at HomeAdvisor.com suggest that most roof leaks stem from some common problems such as missing shingles and faulty step or pipe flashing.

Take the steps to prevent small roof problems from mushrooming into disastrous failures.

Professional roofers offer these maintenance tips:

  • Inspect your rental property’s roof twice a year, in fall and spring. Immediately replace shingles that are buckled, cracked, curled or missing.
  • Then, inspect the area around the chimney, pipes and anywhere else that is attached to and extends from the roof. Look for looseness or wear.
  • When you clean the gutters, look for large amounts of shingle granules that have been blown off or worn away from the shingles. Large amounts in the gutters is a sign that some of the shingles may need to be replaced.
  • Inspect the ceiling in the attic, looking for signs of moisture intrusion.
  • Cut back tree branches that extend to within 6 feet of the roof.

Roof repairs can cost between $150 and $4,000 but the average cost to a homeowner, nationwide is $784. If you, as the landlord, don’t make the repairs, and allow the problems to continue, you can look forward to paying between $2,000 and $12,255 (or an average of $6,637) to replace the roof when it’s no longer functional.

2. Plumbing emergencies

A leaking toilet can waste up to 90,000 gallons of water in just one month and can add $500 to a single water bill. Still think a minor toilet leak isn’t an emergency?

Ok, so maybe it isn’t the drag-you-out-of-bed-at-a-ridiculous-hour type of emergency, but since even minor leaks affect your bottom line, they require prompt attention.

What does constitute a plumbing emergency?

  • Broken pipe
  • Flooded room
  • Overflowing toilet
  • Sewage leak

In fact, anything that causes immediate water damage should be considered an emergency. After all, the average insurance claim for the water damage caused by a burst pipe, for instance, is about $5,000, according to House Logic.

How to prevent plumbing emergencies

Again, routine inspection and maintenance goes a long way in the prevention of plumbing emergencies. Here are a few ways to prevent some of the more common ones:

  • Insulate outside taps and pipes (drain pipes too) and pipes in unheated areas of the property (lofts, garages, basements) to prevent burst pipes.
  • Remind tenants to allow at least one faucet to drip during periods of extreme freeze and to never pour grease or coffee grinds down the drain.
  • Inspect the toilets at least once a year for worn toilet flappers, wax rings and bolts.
  • Check for signs of wear in the screens over tub and shower drains.
  • Install a pressure reducer if the water pressure on the property is above 85 psi. High water pressure puts stress on pipes and valves.
  • Install a water softener in regions with hard water. Mineral deposit buildup is corrosive and can shorten the life of the plumbing system.

3. Electrical emergencies

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) estimates that in 2011, 47,700 home fires were caused by electrical failure or malfunction. Not only did these fires result in 418 deaths, but 1,570 injuries and property damage in excess of $1 billion, or about $13,000 per incident.

So, what constitutes an electrical emergency? Sparking outlets or an outlet that is hot to the touch, and flickering lights may sound minor but they are also symptoms of a larger, more dangerous problem.

Prevent electrical emergencies

  • Hire a certified electrician to check the circuits and wiring on the property. The cost of an inspection will vary, depending on region, but as long as the electrician’s bill isn’t as high as replacing the home after a fire, it’s money well spent, don’t you think?
  • Inspect the electrical system on your property at least once a year. Buy an outlet tester (as little as $4.99 online) and use it to determine if the electrical outlets in the home are wired properly and grounded.
  • As you walk through the property, inspect the light switches and electrical outlets for charring or discoloration. While the problem may be minor, have an electrician check for faulty wiring in the circuit.

When an emergency does occur, it pays to have established relationships with reliable vendors. Cultivate these relationships so that common maintenance emergencies are handled smoothly, safely and professionally.

Cheap and easy autumn home decorating ideas

This year we usher in the autumn season beginning on September 22. And, as we all know, autumn typically brings more than falling leaves. Many of us get lots of company as well.

Instead of digging out the same old décor that you’ve used for the past decade (or more), let’s take a look at some of what the pros recommend when it comes to decorating your home this fall.

Pumpkins

They’re ubiquitous this time of year. From the mini varieties to the gigantic, pumpkins fill supermarket bins, roadside stands and are even for sale at the big home improvement stores.

There are a lot of creative ideas for pumpkins that don’t involve carving scary faces on them.

Mini pumpkins, for instance, can be transformed into candle holders or even vases. To make a luminaria out of a tiny pumpkin, cut “a 1-inch-wide circle into each pumpkin, scooping out the centers with a tablespoon,” recommends the decorating geniuses at Southern Living.

Then, stick a votive candle into each pumpkin. See a photo of the finished product at southernliving.com.

Martha Stewart offers a brilliant idea for an autumn party – a pumpkin party cooler to hold bottles of beer or soft drinks. Chose an oversized, wide pumpkin, cut off the top third and discard it. Scrape all the junk out of the pumpkin, insert a glass or plastic bowl, fill the bowl with ice and insert bottled drinks.

Get the full instructions at marthastewart.com.

Create an autumn wonderland to welcome your guests

There is no shortage of ideas on how to decorate your porch for the season. If it’s pumpkins you want to use, line the walkway with them.

Place hay bales on either side of the front door to hold yet more pumpkins. Since pumpkins and gourds come in various shades, choose as many different colors as possible for added interest.

If pumpkins are a little too obvious for your tastes, consider putting on a fall floral display. Head to the nursery and grab flowering plants in autumn colors. Some to consider include:

  • Chrysanthemum (choose bronze, yellow and orange varieties)
  • Marigolds
  • Helenium

Pot them up in terra cotta pots and line the walkway with them or create an attractive porch display. Or, use a combination of potted flowers and pumpkins and gourds, like this stunning version at countryliving.com.

Make the front door pop

It doesn’t make sense to spend all the time and energy it takes to spiff up the walkway and front porch if your front door isn’t equally as enticing. Take some tips from the pros and spruce it up with festive fall colors.

While many homeowners opt for a seasonal wreath, your choices aren’t that limited. Consider a garland around the door, like this one at homedit.com. You’ll find additional fall garland inspiration on Pinterest.

Whether you decide to DIY the project or purchase one ready-made, you can’t go wrong with an attractive wreath. Countryliving.com offers instructions on creating several fall wreaths and Woman’sDay lists more, with links to the tutorials.

Purchase wreaths and other door hangers online at Walmart, Amazon.com, Kirkland’s, Overstock.com and Pier 1.

Need more ideas? Visit Pinterest boards that feature autumn décor, such as this one and these.

September in the garden

It’s been a long, hot summer, and, we don’t know about you, but we can’t wait for fall. The cooler weather makes it more enjoyable to do the things we like to do, such as gardening.

The only problem is that the days are starting to get shorter. But, hey, that’s a small price to pay to be rid of the heat.

September ushers in a host of gardening chores, so let’s get to them.

September lawn care

Treat your lawn to a spa day by aerating and dethatching it. In fact, September is the ideal time for this task because “lawns are less susceptible to weeds and crabgrass,” at this time, according to Andrew LeVahn with Levahn Brothers in Maple Grove, MN.

A core aerator can be rented at the big home improvement stores. A core aerator will provide more oxygen to the lawn’s roots.

Not all lawns require dethatching. You’ll know if yours does by checking the thatch layer. “Poke around the grass until you find the brown layer near the bottom of the grass blade,” suggests Robert Pavlis, author of “Garden Myths.”

“With your finger or a stick, poke a hole through the brown layer to the top of the soil. Measure the thickness of the thatch,” he concludes. The ideal thickness of a thatch layer is ½ inch.

Remove excess thatch with a vertical mower or power rake. Then, give the grass a good soaking (with at least ½ inch of water) after dethatching and aerating.

If the lawn is looking a bit thin, consider spreading fresh seed. A thick lawn helps deter weed growth. Then, at the end of September or early October you can throw some 3-1-2 fertilizer down. Wait six to eight weeks and then apply more fertilizer, according to LeVahn.

Clean up the planting beds

Get rid of dying or dead annuals and replace them with fall-hardy varieties, such as pansies, snapdragons and ornamental kale.

Perennials, such as canna, can be divided now unless you plan on storing them. If so, wait until after the first frost to dig them up.

In the vegetable bed, clear any debris from the soil. This includes fallen fruit and vegetables, leaves, and other items under or in which pests and disease organisms can overwinter.

Add compost to the soil if you’ll be planting late-season vegetables. Otherwise, this is a good time to apply a weed-control product.

“ … weeds are storing up nutrients in their roots and quickly absorb the herbicide where it counts,” according to Julie Day at todayshomeowner.com. The site offers a helpful video on targeting weeds with weed killer so that you don’t damage nearby plants.

Shrubs and Trees

Fall is an excellent time to plant many types of trees and shrubs. Anything you’ll be growing in a container can be planted now as well.

Then, turn your attention to the existing trees and shrubs in your yard. Get rid of any that are dead or dying. Avoid pruning and fertilizing now as you want to avoid new growth that may be damaged when the weather turns frosty.

Clean up the beds under the trees, removing twigs, branches, fruit and flowers.

Tips to help you paint like a pro

Paint is the miracle cure for a home that needs freshening. It not only adds color, but, if the color is chosen strategically, it can make rooms appear larger, smaller and even cleaner.

The best part of painting as a home improvement project is that you can control costs by doing it yourself. The worst part is how much preparation is involved before you can put roller to wall. But, it’s critical that you prepare properly – it’s what sets you up for success.

Don’t head out to the paint store just yet. First, take a look at our list of what you’ll need.

What you’ll need:

Depending on the condition of your walls, you may not need to purchase this entire list.

  • Measuring tape
  • Plastic tarps
  • Canvas drop cloth or rosin paper
  • Painter’s tape or liquid masking tape (for windows and trim)
  • Spackling compound and spatula
  • Fine grit sanding paper
  • Sanding pole (optional)
  • Bucket of soapy water
  • Paint primer (optional)
  • Paint
  • Paint brushes and roller or paint sprayer
  • 5-gallon bucket with roller grid or a paint tray
  • 4- or 8-foot painter’s pole (for ceiling work)
  • Paint brushes

Preparation is key

You’ll need to know how much paint to purchase, so measure the area carefully. Start with the longest wall first, and “square that number for the ceiling,” recommends James Glave, of This Old House.

How to measure

Then, take that longest wall’s measurement and multiply it by its height, then multiply the result by four. Glave suggests that you double the number if you’ll be applying two coats. Or, you can wing it and use the rule of thumb (one gallon for each 400 square feet) or use a paint calculator, like the one at glidden.com or lowes.com.

Then, figure out whether you’ll use a roller or sprayer. To help you decide, read the results of Popular Mechanic’s “Brush & Roller vs. Paint Sprayer” tests.

Now you’re ready to go shopping for all the supplies you’ll need (see the list, above).

Pre-painting prep

On painting day, push any furniture that you won’t be removing to the middle of the room and throw the tarp over the top, ensuring that everything is covered. For extra protection, tape the bottom of the tarp to the floor.

Then, use the canvas drop cloths to cover the floor. The pros recommend canvas over plastic for several reasons:

  • They remain in place better
  • Paint spills dry quicker
  • They aren’t as slippery as plastic drop cloths

Canvas can be slippery, however on vinyl, hardwood and tile floors, so the pros at familyhandyman.com recommend rosin paper (available at home centers) to cover hard floors.

Next, you’ll want to protect any areas of the wall that you won’t be painting. This is where the painter’s tape comes in. Use it to cover electrical outlets and baseboards. The pros recommend that after you apply the tape “… over the wood, then run a putty knife over the top to press down the tape for a good seal,” according to Brett Martin at popularmechanics.com.

Discover the different uses for painter’s tape and how to use it with Ace Hardware’s handy video.

Liquid masking tape is ideal for protecting the glass in windows from spattered paint. Watch Mauro Henrique, painter for This Old House, apply it in this video.

Fill in holes and indentations in the wall with spackling compound. True Value Hardware offers a spackling walkthrough on its website.

Now it’s time to use that sanding paper to even out the spackle and other rough surfaces on the wall. Sanding also helps the new paint to adhere better. Attach the sanding paper to a sanding pole to make the job easier. Although these tools can be pricey, there are inexpensive ones available at the large home improvement stores.

The pros recommend that you sand the wall from the baseboards up to the ceiling and then horizontally at the baseboard and the ceiling.

“Don’t put a lot of pressure on the sanding pole or the head can flip over and damage the wall, Martin cautions.

Finally, use that bucket of soapy water to wash down the walls, ridding them of dust and any grime left after sanding. Allow the walls to dry completely before painting.

If you’ll be using primer, which is recommended if you need to cover crazy colors, stains or block odors (KILZ is one brand that is popular for odors), now is the time to apply it. By the way, Consumer Reports claims that their highest-rated paints include primer, so priming the wall before painting has become an unnecessary step.

Let’s get painting

What type of paint will you need?  Choosing the color is just the first step. You’ll also need to determine the best sheen for your situation. Consumer Reports offers a tutorial on the various paint sheens and the best projects for each.

Then you’ll be faced with a choice between oil-based and latex paint. Learn the differences at hgtv.com.

Most painting pros recommend that you start your painting project with the ceiling. From there, you’ll find varying recommendations ranging from saving the trim for last to doing it before the walls, right after or just before the ceiling is painted.

The pros at familyhandyman.com are among the paint-the trim-first gang, claiming it’s much easier to paint the trim before the walls. Since you will be covering anything you slop on the walls with wall paint later on, “you don’t have to be neat” when painting the trim, they say.

Know which types and sizes of brushes are appropriate for your situation. Once you get to the paint department the selection will boggle your brain. Sherwin-Williams offers a paint brush selection guide that will help you choose.

Tip: Pour paint from the can into a bucket or other container. This avoids transferring dust and dirt from the brush to the fresh can of paint.

“Once the trim is completely painted and dry (at least 24 hours), tape it off (using an ‘easy release’ painter’s tape),” they conclude.

If you’ve opted for using a roller rather than a paint sprayer on the walls, you’ll need either a 5-gallon bucket with a roller grid or a paint tray to hold the paint. Pros recommend the former and you can learn why at thisoldhouse.com.

Learn how to choose a roller at purdy.com.

If you need additional DIY painting tips, check out this brilliant video produced by This Old House.

Your baby nursery is beyond cute — but is it safe?

The reality that you’re bringing a new life into the world is never more evident than when the nurse rolls the bassinet into the delivery room, right?

It’s at that moment that you realize (between contractions, most likely), that without a doubt, you’ll soon be a parent.

It may also be when you begin to question whether you’re ready. In all the excitement of choosing paint colors for the nursery and shopping for baby paraphernalia, did you miss something important?

Bringing baby home, at least for first-time parents, is joyous, but it can also be stressful. After all, books can only tell us so much about caring for infants. Reality is the real teacher.

So, let’s get rid of some of that stress by ensuring your home is a safe and welcoming place for the new addition to your family.

The best nursery is a safe nursery

Did you know that babies cry more in yellow rooms? The color apparently “activates the anxiety center of the brain,” Carlton Wagner, director of Wagner Institute for Color Research, tells Ava Van de Water, Cox News Service.

“In infants, it results in crying. In adults, it results in shortness of temper. We notice a lot of fighting,” in yellow rooms, he said.

You may want to keep that in mind when choosing the color scheme for the infant’s nursery. And, maybe the master bedroom as well.

More important than color, however, is the paint’s chemistry. It could be one of several sources of air pollution in the home. To be safe, choose a water-based paint that has no VOCs, which is short for “volatile organic compounds.” Then, skip the primer as a base coat.

To make it even more complicated, the Federal Trade Commission cautions that you also choose a zero-VOC colorant.

“And while the base paint may be low-VOC or VOC-free, the colorant may be anything but. In fact, tinting can significantly increase the VOC level of a paint, depending on the color choice,” they warn.

“The bottom line: if you want low-VOC paint, look for low-VOC base paint and low-VOC colorant.”

But wait — there’s more. According to an Underwriter Laboratories study, “paint VOC content should not be used as a proxy for paint VOC emissions into indoor air, as there is no correlation between the two measures.”

If this is of particular concern to you, consider choosing paint from companies that specialize in baby-safe formulations, such as Bioshield, Lullaby Paints, Colorhouse Paints, Green Planet Paints and Ecos Paints.

Read the labels carefully and compare the ingredients to the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) database at msdsonline.com, msdsprovider.com and the Environmental Health and Safety Department at the University of California.

Airborne chemicals affect the smallest among us far quicker and easier than they do older children and adults. Sadly, they’re emitted not only by paint, but furnishings, household cleaning products and floorcoverings as well.

Most of the gasses are released from carpet within the first 72 hours after installation, but it will continue emitting gasses at lower levels for up to five years, according to the EPA. Suggested replacements include tile and hardwood, although there are newer versions of vinyl that boast low emissions.

Even the furnishings you choose for baby can be a source of toxic emissions. ABC News furnished a nursery for an expectant Mom and Dad and then brought in an indoor air quality technician to test the air.

The result? The lab results of the air in the nursery tested positive for a whopping 300 chemical compounds.

For comparison, they also tested the air right outside the home and found only two chemical compounds. Watch the video here.

From the crib mattress to the rocking chair, keep an eye out for non-toxic products when shopping for nursery furnishings. Avoid buying used cribs, look for GREENGUARD Gold Certification and avoid products made overseas. In 2015, for instance, nearly 5,000 cribs and other furniture manufactured in Chile were recalled when it was found they were painted with lead-based paint.

Learn more about making your nursery baby-safe at consumerreports.org and the U.S. Product Safety Commission.

5 Blogs for new homeowners

Although homeowners have been DIYing home improvement projects for more than a century, the growing popularity of HGTV has resulted in a surge of its popularity and an explosion of America’s home renovation and décor market.

Last year, Americans spent $314 billion to upgrade their homes and that number is expected to grow by 7.5 percent in 2018, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.

While home improvement TV shows get a lot of the credit for the rise in DIY project popularity, don’t discount the contributions of the many expert bloggers who help us get the jobs done.

We’ve rounded up five of our favorites (posted in no particular order) that we feel every new homeowner should be following.

Vintage Revivals

One of the first things you’ll notice about Mandi Gubler of Vintage Revivals is that she is fearless. Take a look at the “home” she fell in love with and what it would take to get it where she wanted it and you’ll agree.

When she began blogging, she admits she knew nothing about decorating, and understands that her average follower may not either. She’s sure come a long way.

Redoing a 1973 Bell camper is impressive, but as far as we’re concerned, taking on “The Merc” (the home she bought) gives her serious DIY cred.

The next thing you’ll notice is that she’s brutally honest. The “DIY Gone Wrong” section of her site attests to that.

Finally, it’s her brilliant sense of humor that keeps us coming back. For instance, she decided that she wanted to compete with other bloggers so thought about transforming Vintage Revivals into more of a lifestyle blog. So, she started with fashion. See her hilarious post here.

Keep up with Mandi on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and on her YouTube channel.

Get Busy Gardening

Oh, how we love, love, love this blog! With so many DIY blogs dedicated to interior projects, and our love of the exteriors of our homes, this one sounded a note with us.

Although Minneapolis resident Amy Andrychowicz, creator and head honcho of Get Busy Gardening focuses on “DIY gardening for the beginner on a budget,” you’ll find lots of interesting tips for even the most experienced green thumber.

One of the things we like most about Amy’s blog is that it’s not only easy on the eyes, it’s a snap to navigate.

At Get Busy Gardening, the beginner can learn how to figure out your garden’s sun exposure, how to transplant and she offers garden plans to help you get started. And, if you crave yet more newbie information, check out her books on everything from propagation to pest control.

Follow Amy and Get Busy Gardening on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and on her YouTube channel.

Poppytalk

Earl Einarson and Jan Halvarson, the talent and brains behind Poppytalk, hail from north of the border (Vancouver, to be more specific). With more than 9 million followers and features in Wired, House and Home, InStyle and others, they must be doing something right.

First, Poppytalk isn’t a DIY blog, per se, but more of a curation of brilliant ideas. If you’re looking for inspiration, we suggest you start here. From Ikea hacks and how to create a jungle on your urban patio to where to buy summer-themed art, there is no shortage of ideas on how to decorate your new home.

Follow Poppytalk on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, YouTube and Instagram.

Addicted 2 Decorating

If you’re addicted to room makeover before-and-after photos, you’ll love interior decorator Kristi Linauer’s blog.

Reupholstered wing-back chairs? See the brilliant before and afters here.

We love the variety of project walk-throughs Kristi offers, from how to clean an area rug and make your own stunning artwork, to a complete kitchen remodel.

She calls herself an interior-decorator-turned-blogger and Addicted 2 Decorating is dedicated to bringing you tips and tricks for low-cost decorating.

Follow Kristi’s DIY decorating escapades on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Google Plus, Twitter and on her YouTube channel.

Remodelaholic

Take one look at the “Projects” section at Remodelaholic and you’ll understand why we included this one on our list. Here, you can learn everything from edging your yard and painting a concrete patio to drywall installation.

The tutorial we like the best is DIY stains. Seriously – Cassity teaches us how to make stains from household items.

Cassity is a mom, a wife with a husband she describes as “a dream” and a brilliant DIY blogger. Follow her on Facebook, Google Plus, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and on her YouTube channel.

Prevent home repairs by breaking these 5 bad habits

“Deferred maintenance.” It’s a term that real estate professionals hear frequently. It describes a home that has been neglected and raises red flags concerning its condition.

Putting off routine home maintenance can not only lead to big, ugly, expensive problems down the line, it causes a significant loss of your home’s value when it comes time to sell.

Let’s take a look at five of the most common problems and all of them can be prevented by changing bad habits.

1. Kitchen drain abuse

Although it’s easy to assume that the garbage disposer can grind up just about anything you throw at it, use caution. Everything that you put down there will end up in the drain pipes. Some of it will exit with ease while other substances can sit, accumulate with others and cause a great-big headache of a clog.

Grease and oil are the most common culprits when it comes to clogged kitchen drains. Plumbers recommend pouring the grease into an old coffee can or something similar. Let it sit until it cools and congeals and then throw the container in the trash.

Garbage disposers don’t properly grind up certain fruit and vegetable peels, such as apples and potatoes. Peel them over a trash container instead.

Starchy foods, such as rice and pasta will swell with the addition of water and coffee grinds should never be poured down the drain.

In fact, according to the pros at atomicplumbing.com, “Nothing causes more blockages and clogged pipes than coffee grounds and grease. Even if you don’t put them down the drain at the same time, they’ll meet up and form a sludgy impenetrable nightmare.”

2. Neglecting the gutters

Whether it’s your fear of heights or because they’re easy to forget, the gutters around your home need your attention. When debris, such as leaves and twigs, builds up, it blocks the free flow of water. The water will back up and can damage both the exterior of your home and the roof’s eaves.

“If you let gutter cleaning go by the wayside, it can cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars,” Jeff Lambert with The Gutter Man in Houston tells angieslist.com.

While you’re at it, don’t forget to clean out the downspout as well. Lowe’s has produced a handy video that will walk you through the process.

Gutters should be cleaned out every three months, according to the experts.

3. Not replacing the AC filter

Allowing your HVAC filters to become clogged with fuzz can end up costing you a fortune.

“A system that has a dirty filter can suffer from pressure drop, which can lead to reduced air flow, or ‘blow-out,’ resulting in no air infiltration at all,” according to Nick Gromicko and Kate Tarasenko with the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors.

This causes the system to have to work harder and “any mechanical component that has to work harder to run efficiently puts undue stress on the whole system, which can lead to premature failure, resulting in repair or replacement,” they continue.

Here’s some incentive to help you remember to change the HVAC filter every month to three months: The average cost, nationwide, of a new air conditioning system is $5,369 (according to homeadvisor.com) and you can pick up a new filter for less than $1 at the big home improvement stores.

4. Taking the water heater for granted

We don’t know why, but one of the most common complaints of new homeowners is that the water heater broke down shortly after they moved into their home.

The purchase and installation of a new water heater averages to $1,048, nationwide. If the unit failed because of a burst pipe or leak, plan on paying an additional $4,000 (after the insurance deductible) or so to fix the damage, according to the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety.

But, with a little maintenance you can extend the life of this oh-so-important appliance. Check out the video walk-through of water heater maintenance at thisoldhouse.com.

5. Ignoring plumbing leaks

Homeowners can save 10 percent on their water bills just by fixing leaks, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. But, that’s just the beginning of how much you’ll save.

Leaky plumbing allows moisture to seep into floors and walls and, if ignored long enough, can cause damage that may cost thousands of dollars to repair.

Some leaks are easy to diagnose (a dripping bathtub faucet for instance). Others may take a bit of sleuthing.

Plan on performing a routine inspection of the home’s plumbing system at least once a year. Check the toilets for worn flappers and check all under-the-sink valves for signs of moisture leakage.

To determine if your home has hidden leaks, the EPA recommends that you check your water usage “during a colder month, such as January or February. If a family of four exceeds 12,000 gallons per month, there are serious leaks.”

Another way of detecting hidden leaks is to jot down the reading on your water meter and then don’t use the water for two hours. Check the reading again. If there’s a change, you may have a leak.

Colorado’s Thornton Water Works offers a video to walk you through looking for hidden leaks.

3 ways to wreck your home’s value

As a homeowner you know that the best way to protect your home’s value is by maintaining it. And, when it comes time to sell it, you’ll find lots of ways to increase its value.

On the flip side, there are few folks willing to tell you how to wreck your home’s value. Until you met us, that is.

Use this list of tips as a cautionary tale – unless, of course, you really want a decrease in value.

 1. Convert your garage

More than half of homebuyers want a 2-car garage and 86 percent want a garage with storage, according to a survey conducted the National Association of Homebuilders.

So, although you may think of yours as wasted space or just an oversized junk drawer, carefully consider what a garage conversion can do to your home’s value.

A Sacramento appraiser found that homebuyers paid between 6 and 10 percent less on homes with no garage, regardless of what replaced it.

On a $200,000 home, that’s a loss of between $15,000 and $20,000.

Ouch

If you are thinking of selling the home, consider some garage upgrades that may increase its value and make it more attractive to homebuyers. These include:

  • A new garage door. According to Remodeling Magazine’s “Cost vs. Value” report, homeowners who installed a new garage door saw a 98.3 percent return on their investment.
  • Adding additional storage options, such as shelves and cabinets. Consider overhead storage, suspended from the ceiling, to utilize the wasted space above the cars. It’s quite popular and will catch a buyer’s eye.
  • Make the garage look brand new by power-washing the floor and applying an epoxy floor coating (This Old House offers a walk-through of the process). Then, paint the walls with a semi-gloss paint.

2. Don’t snitch to the HOA about bad neighbors

If your community is governed by a homeowners association, you pay dues. Even homeowners with low fees should expect their association to enforce its rules and regulations.

To not take advantage of their power when a neighbor is messing with your home’s value is just not smart. Consider becoming a “snitch” if any of the following occur in your neighborhood:

  • The hoarder: Nearby property that is cluttered with a homeowner’s junk can reduce your home’s value by 5 to 10 percent, according to the Appraisal Institute. If the exterior is extra-packed with debris, you may lose even more value.
  • The loud neighbor: Most associations have a noise ordinance in their rules, and for good reason. Not only are loud neighbors disruptive to other residents, but their (and their pets’) noise can reduce home values by another 5 to 10 percent.
  • Unsightly vehicles: Many HOAs prohibit residents from parking commercial vehicles, boats and large recreational vehicles on the property. If yours does, and a neighbor is violating the policy, contact your HOA and file a complaint.

3. Install a pool

In some parts of the country, such as Las Vegas and parts of Arizona, a pool adds value to a home. It may also add value if you live in a neighborhood where most of the other homes have pools.

In other regions and other neighborhoods it may or may not and in yet others, a pool is considered an expensive inconvenience and a liability and can drag down the value of your home.

Not only that, but a pool knocks some buyers out of contention. Unless it offers security features, the pool won’t be popular with families with young children.

Consider that the average cost for a complete pool installation will cost between $30,000 and $100,000 according to Jean Folger at Investopedia.com.

Then, in some states and municipalities, fences around the water feature are mandatory, so factor in that cost. Find out if yours is among them at signs.com.

Ongoing maintenance may cost a bundle as well. “The pump and heater, if you have one, could drive up your utility costs by $100 a month or so,” according to the folks at daveramsey.com.

“You’ll spend about $600 during the swimming season on chemicals if you maintain your pool yourself. If you live in a climate where you’ll use the pool year-round, budget $15–25 a week for DIY maintenance,” they continue.

If you must install a pool for your own enjoyment, keep in mind that it won’t pay for itself when you sell the home and you’ll likely take a hit on your home’s value.

No, these aren’t the only things that negatively impact a home’s value. Many of the others are out of your control. For those issues that are within your control, act on them.

Speak up and protect your investment when the airport decides to change flight paths, when something negative is about to impact the quality of your local school and when value-killing zoning changes are afoot.