3 brilliant ways to create a pet-friendly yet attractive home

Americans love their pets. As a matter of fact, 85 million American families own a pet, according to the latest survey by the American Pet Products Association (APPA).

It’s no wonder then that the pet industry is worth a wopping $75 billion. Aside from food and medicines, we buy a lot of cleaning products to go after those inevitable pet messes and, sometimes, destruction.

It’s not easy to keep a home attractive to visitors when a pet lives in it but it’s not impossible. Let’s take a look at three parts of your décor that can help a room look stylish yet still accommodate your four-legged friends.


It may be your home, but it’s your dog’s territory and he (or she) won’t hesitate to let everyone know. They do this by “marking” it – from spraying to rubbing against objects to leave their scent.

In the home, the walls bear the brunt of this territorial activity. Since we typically don’t wash our pets with the same frequency that we bathe, oil and the other grime in their fur ends up smeared on walls and baseboards.

In the past, painters recommended semigloss paint for the walls. Today, however, some flat paint brands are scrubbable, making cleanup easier while still providing the style and color choices you crave.

Voted the best interior paint by the editors at The Wirecutter, Benjamin Moore Regal Select Interior (a combination of paint and primer) is pricey, but worth it if you own pets.

Looking for a flat paint? Sherwin-Williams offers Showcase® Stain-Blocking Paint and Primer, a scrubbable interior latex.


When you own pets, especially dogs, deciding on flooring options is a challenge. Whichever you choose needs to be tough enough to avoid scratches from dog claws, easy to clean those “accidents” and yet still remain aesthetically pleasing.

What doesn’t work for dog owners are carpeted, cork, laminate and linoleum floors. Cork and linoleum floors scratch easily and laminate floors (despite what manufacturers advertise) do warp.

Consider tile, concrete or vinyl flooring. The latter, by the way, is quite stylish, with luxury vinyl planks that mimic wood and stone.

There are even some manufacturers who have developed moisture proof vinyl planking. Check out the top six at FloorandDecor.com.

While we can’t vouch for it, Mohawk has a line of pet-friendly carpet available.


Cat owners don’t need to be reminded how their kitties love to scratch. Whether it’s the sofa or the curtains, cats will claw and scratch whatever is handy to mark their territory or remove debris or the dead outer layer from their claws.

Decorators suggest smooth fabrics, such as leather or something with a flat weave, that your cat can’t readily get their claws into.

Then, there’s the fur problem. If you long for silk, velvet or chintz, think twice if you own a furry friend.

Fabric color is important as well. If you own a black dog, for instance, a white sofa won’t work for you. Patterns are better at hiding pet fur than solids.

Need inspiration? Take a look at some stylish, pet-friendly rooms at Forbes.com.

Unexpected windfall? Treat your home to an upgrade that will pay for itself

I think most of us have dreamt, a time or two, about receiving an unexpected windfall. That fantasy of winning the Mega Millions lotto, coming into an inheritance or finding out that the fake Picasso you have in that cheap frame is actually authentic.

Let’s let our imaginations run crazy today. Or, perhaps you’ve received an unexpected windfall. Spending at least part of it on home upgrades is a smart move. We’ve rounded up some of the most intelligent upgrades you can make.

Upgrade your HVAC system

“More than half of energy use in homes is for heating and air conditioning,” according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Upgrading your current system (especially if it is older than 10 years) to one that is ENERGY STAR® certified is a smart decision that will have a significant effect on your heating and cooling bills.

Since the average U.S. household emits twice as many greenhouse gasses as the average vehicle, upgrading your HVAC system helps the environment as well.

Finally, energy efficiency in most of its forms, from windows to appliances to home systems, is popular with homebuyers. You may just recoup some of the cost of the new system when you sell your home in the future.

For information on ENERGY STAR rated products and how to choose, read the pamphlet online at EnergyStar.gov.

Stop the leaks

It doesn’t make much sense to install a spiffy new, energy conscious HVAC system in a home with air leaks. Especially when we consider that those air leaks cost the average American family about $350 each year.

The biggest leakers? Attics and basements, so those are the best places to start. Then, check your recessed light fixtures. “The Pennsylvania Housing Research/Resource Center pinpointed them as a leading cause of household air leaks,” according to Megan E. Desouza at HouseLogic.com.

It’s easy to find out if yours are stealing air from the home, she says. Look for a label on the fixture, it should be next to the bulb. If it says “ICAT,” it’s already sealed. If not, “assume yours leaks.”

Head to the local home improvement store and buy an inexpensive airtight baffle. “Remove the bulb, push the baffle up into the housing, then replace the bulb … a quick, 1-second fix,” promises Desouza.

Don’t stop there, however.

  • Check windows and doors for leaks and weather-strip and caulk if necessary.
  • Check for air leaks around ducts, plumbing and around the floors and ceilings.
  • “Install foam gaskets behind outlet and switch plates on walls,” suggests the experts at the U.S. Department of Energy. They offer a checklist of ways to snoop out air leaks in the home at Energy.gov.

Consider new windows

You may not be thinking of selling your home right now, but someday you most likely will. Did you know that energy efficient windows are a hot feature with buyers? They can actually help you sell your home for more money.

Look for low-E windows – the “E” stands for “emissivity.” Coated with and invisible-to-the-naked-eye layer of metallic oxides, these windows allow more sunlight into a room, reduce condensation and protect furniture and carpets from fading.

“In general, you’ll save up to 15 percent a year on your energy bill if older double-pane windows in a 2,600-square-foot house are replaced with energy-efficient windows with low-E coatings,” according to the pros at HouseLogic.com.

Beef up the insulation

Adding attic insulation alone to the home can save from 10 to 50 percent on heating costs, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Not sure if your home is under-insulated? Look for the following clues:

  • If there are parts of the home that are colder or hotter than other parts, you may need more insulation.
  • Touch the ceilings and walls. It they’re damp and/or wet, you have insufficient insulation.
  • Frozen pipes in the walls.
  • Sky-high home heating and cooling bills are an obvious sign that something is amiss.

Choosing even one of these upgrades will help save energy and, thus, money in the long run.




3 Essential tips for moving when it’s snowing

Moving in winter, when you live in an area that sees lots of snow, is messy. It also takes significantly longer than moving when the weather is pleasant.

Preparation is the key to speeding things along and getting your belongings, and the people who own them, from point A to point B safely.

And that starts with packing. Let’s take a look at tips from the pros.

1. Pack the must-haves

Grab a bag or box to fill with all the items you’ll need both during the move and the period of time just after you move into the new home.

Stow it in your car’s trunk so that the movers don’t inadvertently load it on the truck. Here’s what you’ll want to include in your essentials box and a cleared area of your car’s trunk:

  • Absorbent rags and towels (to mop up wet and slippery floors)
  • Ice scraper, shovel and walkway/driveway deicer
  • An extra set of clothing for each family member (don’t forget socks and boots)
  • Something to snack on
  • Pet food and water bowls and food
  • A jug of potable water
  • Bathroom supplies, such as a shower curtain (rod and hooks too), soap, shampoo, deodorant and toilet paper
  • Daily medications
  • Coffee maker (and filters) and coffee, tea and cocoa to warm everyone up
  • A small lockbox or safe for your valuables

2. Appliances require special consideration

One of the first things you’ll no doubt want to do at the new home is set up the washer and dryer. After all, you’ll have some soggy clothing to attend to.

But you’ll need to wait at least 12 hours (24 is better), according to appliance manufacturers.


The experts say that it’s almost impossible to remove all traces of water from the washing machine when draining it. “Trying to wash clothes while this water is frozen” can damage the washer, according to the vice president of relocation services with Stevens Worldwide Van Lines.

The clothes dryer, on the other hand, contains a heating element and igniter that, if not allowed to come to room temperature, may become brittle. When the temperature changes suddenly (by drying a load of clothing), these components may be damaged.

3. Your electronics: Stock up on shrink and bubble wrap

Cold temperatures and a moist environment are brutal on electronic components and devices.

Decreasing temperatures cause condensation which, in turn, may cause the device to short circuit. Freezing temperatures can damage electronics, such as hard drives, smartphones and any device with batteries.

The experts at Bekins suggest paying close attention to how you pack and move the following electronics:

  • Digital and electric clocks
  • Gaming systems and controllers
  • Keyboards and peripherals
  • PC components
  • Printers and scanners
  • Routers, modems and antennas

How to pack electronics

  • Back up your data before packing.
  • Wrap your electronics first in bubble wrap or foam, taped securely all around.
  • Wrap them next in moving blankets to help insulate them from cold temperatures.
  • Place the wrapped electronics in the moving box and then wrap the entire box in shrink wrap.
  • Place the boxed electronics in a heated room and pack them into the truck or car last.
  • Consider using plastic bins or tubs with tight-fitting lids instead of cardboard boxes in which to pack electronics.

Avoid leaving electronics in a cold car truck while you pack and attend to other moving-related tasks. When you jump in the car and turn on the heat, you’ll end up with condensation. Heat up the interior of the car before loading the electronics box into it.

Allow your electronics to come to room temperature in the new home before plugging them in and using them. The experts at Bekins recommend allowing them to sit for 24 hours.


Cabin fever got you down? Transform your home, transform your mood

With the new year in full swing, and the holidays a fond memory, reality begins setting in. The gloomy, cold, icy weather – the constant white pallet we’re faced with daily – isn’t about to end anytime soon.

You aren’t the only one suffering from a bout of cabin fever. Hundreds of thousands of us suffer from mild-winter depression, of feeling isolated and cooped up around mid-winter.

Thankfully, there are ways to combat the gloom and today we’ll share a few of those with you.

Get outdoors

This may seem like a no brainer to most and an impossibility to those in the more wild-winter-struck areas of the country.

Even just a few minutes spent in nature can lift spirits according to Michelle Gielan, an expert in positive health & wellness. Bundle up and, if there’s a body of water nearby, make that your destination.

“One study shows that just five minutes a day walking by the water boosts our mood,” Gielan says at PsychologyToday.com.

Bring the outdoors in

If it’s just too frosty to get outdoors, it’s time to bring nature into the home. Here are several ideas we’ve rounded up from various experts:

Fill the main living spaces of your home with photos of nature

“A new study has found that just looking at still images of nature is enough ‘natural’ stimulus to lower our stress levels,” claims Peter Dockrill at ScienceAlert.com.

Let in more natural light

“One Australian study that measured levels of brain chemicals flowing directly out of the brain found that people had higher serotonin levels on bright sunny days than on cloudy ones,” according to Alice Park with Time magazine.

Serotonin, as you may know, is a substance in our brains that is sometimes known as “the happy chemical” because it assists in making us feel happy.

Park goes on to say that the effect of natural light on serotonin levels persists, “no matter how cold or hot the weather was.”

Ways to improve natural lighting in the home include:

  • Adding skylights
  • Adding more mirrors and other reflective surfaces (mirrored or metallic accents, picture frames, cabinet pulls). In fact, some decorators use one large mirror directly across from a dark room’s largest window to help reflect natural light. Any reflective objects, however, help bounce natural light around a room.
  • Consider painting the ceiling with a high-gloss paint. “A glossy ceiling finish reflects light well,” suggests Monique Valeris and Kelsey Kloss at ElleDecor.com.
  • Clear obstructions from windows. Obviously, cleaning your windows is the first step here, but trimming trees that obstruct the light also helps. And, although those heavy, dark draperies help insulate the home, consider switching them out for a lighter fabric that allows more natural light to enter the room.

Create an indoor greenspace

Adding houseplants to the home’s main living spaces can help lower stress and improve well-being, according to several studies.

One of these, published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology, studied two subject groups. One group transplanted an indoor plant while the other carried out a task on the computer.

After completing the tasks, the gardening group felt significantly “more comfortable, soothed, and natural” than the computer task group. Surprisingly, the gardening group also exhibited significantly lower diastolic blood pressure.

Check out these ideas for creating a mini indoor green space to help lift your mood:

Create a terrarium

Find inspiration online at PopularMechanics.com, BalconyGardenWeb.com and Gardeners.com.

Bring in the houseplants

From a kitchen counter herb garden to pots of greenery scattered throughout the main living spaces, houseplants – especially if you interact with them (watering, transplanting, etc.) – is the next best thing to being outdoors, in nature.

Choose plants that can handle winter’s low and short-duration light levels. These include:

  • Arrowhead vine (Syngonium podophyllum)
  • Pothos (Epipremnum aureum)
  • Polka dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya)
  • Peace lily (Spathiphyllum)
  • Corn plant (Dracaena fragrans)

Choose non-toxic plants if you have pets (especially cats – they love to munch on plants). You’ll find a list of these plants at Gardenologist.org.


If all else fails, move. A study in the journal Environmental Science & Technology finds that moving to an area with more street trees and more greenery in general can help lift moods and increase mental wellness for up to three years.

Now that’s something we can help you with. Reach out to us and we’ll get to work finding you a lovely greenspace to call home.

Looking for a quick bathroom update for the new year?

If you have a few days off over the holidays, there’s a chance you’ve walked through your home considering all the different ways to improve your property.

It’s not unusual. It’s also typical to experience frustration when your ideal upgrade and the budget available don’t match.

Thankfully, there are a few rooms that don’t require a huge sum of money to revamp, including the bathrooms in your home.

And, many of these fixes are so simple and inexpensive you could get them done before Valentine’s Day.

Deep Clean

No one enjoys cleaning the grouting in their bathroom, but committing the time to this task will instantly transform the way your bathroom feels.

Get the gloves out and give this room a top to bottom deep clean, including light fixtures, hooks, and under the counter. You’ll feel better immediately.

Need some time-saving yet effective tips? Check this out.

Consider your cabinets

Paint – it’s a miracle worker. Whether it’s put on the walls or on your cabinets, fresh paint instantly transforms a room.

The predicted hot colors for 2020, according to the Milan Design Show, include champagne, light yellow, and pumpkin red. Since these are rather “in your face” colors, consider painting the walls a color that’s a little less intimidating and use the aforementioned colors in your accessories.

Painting your bathroom vanity may seem like a huge job, but watch a few DIY videos and you’ll have it done like a pro, and in no time. Here’s a good walkthrough and you’ll find another here.

You can’t grow wrong with gray, ebony or white paint for the vanity, according to TheFlooringGirl.com.

Check out Benjamin Moore’s Kid Gloves (and see it in action, here) and Sherwin-Williams Lazy Gray.

Deep pockets?

If you have a decent budget, consider some of the trends that designers are forecasting for 2020:

  • Brass finishes
  • Deep soaking, freestanding tubs (make it a black tub if you want to be on trend)
  • Travertine or limestone floors

New Accessories

A fresh shower curtain will infuse new life into your bathroom, but that’s not the only purchase to consider.

A proper waste basket (not a cheap plastic solution) can make a big difference. There are also new lighting fixtures, faucets, towels and rugs to consider.

Take some time to browse the internet for ideas and create a décor scheme that works for you… and your bathroom… before heading out to shop.

Think Outside the Bathroom

Most people only look in the bathroom section of the store when considering the appearance of this room.

When you add unusual objects to this space (treating them accordingly for the moisture in the bathroom), you can make a statement while making this room more functional.

Consider a small gallery of framed art, perhaps a dining chair, or lighting designed for a home’s exterior. No matter how small these items may be, they will make everyone smile.

Just remember to take stock of everything you want before leaving the house, and create a budget before shopping. It will keep you on track as you update your home’s bathroom.

Speaking of shopping

Consider attending yard sales and shopping at thrift stores for the aforementioned accessories.

As you shop, remind yourself that a drapery rod finial can make an interesting accent piece when set next to a potted plant or other décor and that cute glass and brass espresso cup would look amazing holding your toothbrush.

HGTV.com offers up more thrift-shop-finds-as-bathroom décor, here.

Then, hit the dollar stores in your area. But, first, watch this brilliant video of a DIY bathroom makeover with products purchased from those discount stores.

Pretty but deadly holiday plants

Bringing the outdoors in can help chase away winter’s “cabin fever.” The problem is that some plants don’t play well with kids and pets.

Both cats and dogs can be attracted to munch on any houseplant, whether because they are lacking something in their diets, as an instinctive way to help cough up a fur ball or the plant just smells irresistible to them.

What happens after the plant is ingested depends on the type of plant, how much of it the pet ate and the age and size of your pet.

Keep in mind, however, that even mildly toxic plants can be deadly if they are covered in pesticide.

Non-toxic holiday plants

Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) is a non-toxic alternative to other holiday plants, safe for both dogs and cats.


Mildly toxic holiday plants

Christmas Tree

Surprised? The pros at PetMD.com suggest that fir trees produce oils which can irritate your pet’s mouth and stomach. When ingested, they say, the tree’s needles may cause a puncture, obstruction or stomach irritation.

Then, there’s the water sitting in the tree’s stand – if it builds up mold or bacteria and the pet drinks it, they can become quite ill. PetMD suggests keeping the water covered to avoid problems.

Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima)

The poinsettia’s sap can be irritating to the mouth and stomach and the pet may vomit after ingesting it. The National Institutes of Health, however, can find no cases of human or pet deaths from poinsettia.

While this quintessential holiday houseplant is considered mildly toxic, if it’s been treated with pesticide, the story changes.

“Severe reactions to the plant or to the pesticide it has been treated with include seizures, coma, and in some cases, death,” claim the pros at PetMD.com. The younger and/or smaller the pet, the more severe the reaction.


There are two types of holly used in holiday décor in the U.S., American (Ilex opaca) and English holly (Ilex aquifolium).

According to the ASPCA, both the leaves and berries are mildly toxic to our pets. If ingested, your pet may experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and depression.

The experts at the National Institutes of Health claim that the leaves are not toxic to humans, only the berries.

“Poisonings most often occur in children, and most cases are harmless,” they said. “In adults, one must eat 20-30 berries before becoming symptomatic, whereas children only have to consume 5.”

As in all cases of plant toxicity, if a large enough volume of the plant is eaten, the reactions may be quite severe.

Moderately toxic holiday plants

Amaryllis (Amaryllis spp.)

A popular potted gift plant, ingesting parts of the amaryllis causes vomiting, depression, diarrhea, abdominal pain, hyper-salivation, anorexia and tremors.

Cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum)

Cyclamen is such a winter staple that many homes have at least one growing indoors.

This plant grows from a rhizome (an underground tuber-like structure) which produces a toxic substance (triterpenoid saponin).

While the leaves and flowers are considered mildly toxic, the rhizome, if ingested, may cause “severe vomiting and diarrhea accompanied by significant fluid loss from the body. It may also cause heart rhythm abnormalities and seizures, according to Linda Crampton at DenGarden.com.

She goes on to let us know that the tubers are bitter tasting, so one bite may be all your pet needs to back off.

“The Department of Horticultural Science at North Carolina State University considers cyclamen to be ‘toxic only if large quantities eaten,’ she concludes.

Highly toxic holiday plants

Mistletoe (Phoradendron flavescens)

While the two legged get kissed beneath a sprig of mistletoe, the four legged are attracted to it and, if ingested, the plant causes gastrointestinal disorders, cardiovascular collapse, dyspnea, bradycardia, erratic behavior.

In some cases, the pet may suffer from low blood pressure and death.

Lily (Lilium spp.)

The gorgeous lily may cause kidney failure in cats. “Eating even a small amount of the plant will have a severe impact on a cat’s system, causing severe symptoms such as gastrointestinal issues, arrhythmia and convulsions,” according to PetMD.com.

They suggest removing the plant from the home – take it to the office to provide cheer while you work.

Daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus)

A popular holiday gift plant, daffodils are especially dangerous to cats. Just a few munches of the flowers’ petals can cause kidney failure.

Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis)

These diminutive white flowers are frequently included in winter floral arrangements. When ingested, the pet may vomit, experience an irregular heart beat and low blood pressure, disorientation, coma and seizure.

If you suspect poisoning in a human, call the Poison Control Hotline at 1-800-222-1222. The ASPCA offers help via the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center: (888) 426-4435.

The Pros and Cons of Paying off your Mortgage Early

If you can afford to pay extra on your mortgage every month, it seems to make sense to do so, right?

Surprisingly, the experts are divided on whether it’s such a good idea. Like many things in life, paying off your mortgage early has its pros and cons. Let’s take a look at some of the most significant.

Why you might want to consider paying your mortgage off early

Financial experts who agree that hacking away at your mortgage every month is a good idea point primarily to the interest you’re shelling out.

The president’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, however, has changed that scenario. First, the cap on interest has been lowered. Next, you’ll need to itemize your deductions on your taxes to get the benefit of the mortgage interest deduction. This means foregoing the new, increased, standard deduction.

Obviously, this is something you want to run by your accountant or tax specialist.

Other than that, those who think paying the loan off early give good reasons for suggesting it:

  • Peace of mind. What would you do with the money you’d have every month if you didn’t have to make a mortgage payment? That’s one heck of a feeling of security.
  • The more you pay off every month, the more equity you’ll earn. This is especially important for older Americans. With high equity, or owning the home outright, comes the ability to qualify for a reverse mortgage, which is a safety net for many on a fixed income.
  • Do it for the kids. When the home is owned free and clear, there’s a better chance it will remain in the family. Regardless of whether this is important to you, it creates a “forced savings” plan for your heirs.

Reasons to reconsider paying your mortgage early

  • Earlier we addressed taxes and your mortgage. Keep in mind that “if the interest on your mortgage is less than the standard deduction, you aren’t getting an additional tax benefit,” according to Forbes contributor Nancy Anderson.
  • The extra payments shouldn’t take priority over other sound financial strategies, such as building an emergency fund and another for home maintenance needs.
  • Some financial experts claim that a better use of the extra money every month is to put it toward getting out of credit card and other debt with high interest rates.
  • “the amount you save in interest likely won’t exceed what you would earn in other long-term investments, such as stocks and real estate,” according to the pros at BankRatecom.
  • In the event of an economic downturn it may be important to have a portion of your money in liquid assets, such as the aforementioned stocks. A home isn’t considered a liquid asset.

Sometimes the choice that makes sense doesn’t always offer peace-of-mind. Regardless of is more important to you, we urge you to speak with a financial planner to determine the best course of action.

Wild Weather is no Excuse to Hibernate in Winter

The most common New Year’s resolution is to exercise more, according to NPR and The Marist Poll. Losing weight and a vow to “eat better” came in third and fourth, respectively.

All of the above certainly rank high on our lists, which is why we decided to take a break from talking about real estate and homeownership responsibilities and talk fitness as we head into the new year.

While the aforementioned survey didn’t say why 80 percent of us fail to keep our resolutions, when it comes to fitness and losing weight, the weather could have something to do with it.

Baby, it’s cold outside

Sure, there are some die-hard outdoor enthusiasts who will jog in any weather, but for most of us, winter means moving the fitness routine indoors. Whether your favorite activity is a sport or a rigorous workout routine, we’ve scoured tips to help you burn calories, indoors, on the cheap.


There are indoor tracks in most major and many smaller cities. Check out the YWCA or YMCA. If all else fails, take to the treadmill at the local gym.


Fortunate are those bikers who live in a town with a velodrome, such as that offered in Blaine, Minnesota’s National Sports Center. Lacking an indoor bike facility, again, hit the gym.


Trade the summer wheels for blades at an ice-skating rink. Open skate sessions are typically inexpensive and hours convenient to practice your axel to your heart’s content.

Don’t want to give up your wheels? Indoor roller rinks are ideal.


Burn those calories indoors at a YMCA pool.

Bend it like Beckham – Indoors

Blue skies and balmy temperatures make for ideal soccer weather. Don’t let the fact that we don’t have year-round futbol weather prevent you from working on bending that ball like David Beckham.

Indoor soccer is the solution. Not only can you keep your skills up but enjoy an excellent cardio workout with some core work as a bonus.

Many parks and rec facilities offer indoor leagues and practice areas when there aren’t games.


If walking is the way you stay fit you can still do it, even in the dead of winter. Community centers are the place to find walking tracks but don’t overlook the local mall.

Just don’t wreck your workout session with window shopping and noshing.

Try Something New

If your workout-routine of choice doesn’t involve a gym during the mild weather months but you just can’t face the thought of joining one during the winter, consider trying something new that’s not related to sitting on a stationary bike in a room full of sweaty people.

For strength training and cardio, consider swinging kettlebells. You can pick them up at any sporting goods store, Walmart or Target.

Then, in your own living room you can blast away 20 calories per minute, with a 20-minute routine being “the equivalent of running a 6-minute mile pace,” according to a study published at AceFitness.org.

Of course, you’ll need a cool routine, so search YouTube videos for “Kettlebell Workout Routines.”

With any of these suggestions you can emerge from winter with your hot and healthy body ready for spring.

Home fire season is upon us: Do you have enough insurance?

House fire

Fall and winter see an increase in home fires. It makes sense when we consider that we cook more around the holidays, we light more candles and we place more flammable objects near heat sources (hello holiday tree!).

In 2017 (the latest year for which the National Fire Protection Association, or NFPA, has statistics), there were 379,000 residential structure fires across the United States. More than 2,600 deaths occurred as a result.

Additionally, fire caused $7.7 billion in damage to homes, or an average per-property loss of $21,463, according to the NFPA.

A home fire can be devastating, to both family and finances. Don’t wait to find out post-fire that you lack adequate insurance coverage to rebuild or repair.

Dig out your homeowners’ policy now and set your mind at ease.

Are fires covered by home insurance?

The standard home insurance policy covers home damage caused by fire and smoke.

A good standard policy will cover damage to the structure, attached structures as sell as your personal property within the home and, often, even landscaping.

An even better standard policy will cover the cost of staying somewhere else while the home is being repaired.

That said, consider the two situations under which a fire is typically not covered in a standard homeowner’s policy:

 Vacant home fire – Homes are typically considered “vacant” if nobody has lived in them for the past 30 days. If you plan on moving and the home will be vacant for that long, or if you own a seasonal rental that sits unoccupied for 30-day or longer stretches, you can purchase vacant home insurance, usually as an endorsement (an addition or amendment) to your current policy.

This, of course, depends on whether your insurer carries vacant home insurance.

Step one, then, is to pore over your insurance documents (or call your insurance agent) to ensure that fire is covered (it almost always is) and that it applies to the vacant home. 

Arson – The person who sets a fire deliberately is known, legally at least, as an arsonist. Not only is this a criminal offense but it may constitute insurance fraud as well.

When you report a home fire to your insurer, the company will first send an investigator to the home to look for the cause of the fire and for signs of arson.

The company will deny coverage if it’s learned that the fire was arson.

How much insurance coverage does the average homeowner need?

The maximum amount that the insurance company will give you to cover a loss is known as the policy’s “limits.” And, since no two homeowners are alike, the limits vary according to your needs.

When considering whether you have enough coverage, think about the following:

The home – Construction material prices and labor costs fluctuate. If you haven’t thought about your insurance policy for years, it’s time to dig it out and ensure you have enough coverage to replace your home.

Don’t make the common mistake many homeowners make by basing your coverage on your home’s current market value.

“The price you paid for your home—or the current market price—may be more or less than the cost to rebuild,” suggests the experts at the Insurance Information Institute (III).

“And if the limit of your insurance policy is based on your mortgage (as some banks require), it may not adequately cover the cost of rebuilding.”

The question to ask yourself isn’t “How much is the home worth right now?” but “How much will it cost to rebuild my home, in today’s dollars?”

Your personal property — In a home fire, it’s not just the flames that cause destruction. The smoke and the water used to douse the fire often destroy personal property as well.

If you haven’t yet taken a home inventory, do so as soon as possible. You’ll find lots of tips and advice online, such as this handy Home Contents Inventory Worksheet at NYCM.com, a walk-through of the process from III and a home inventory Q&A from Farmers Insurance.

If you find that you may need more coverage for your “stuff,” increase the limits for personal property. And, be aware, some items, such as expensive jewelry or artwork may come with lower limits, according to the folks at III.

We all know that homes should have working smoke detectors. It’s also important to consider having several fire extinguishers on-hand.

Some fire-protection additions may even get you a discount from your insurer. These include:

  • Centrally-monitored fire alarm
  • Fire-resistant construction
  • Sprinkler system

Speak with your insurance company representative about your coverage needs before something happens, not after.

DIY those drywall cracks and holes in the wall

When getting your home ready to sell, or doing minor repairs on one that you’ve purchased, you’ll inevitably run into drywall issues.

From cracks to holes, they’re unsightly, but, thankfully, easy to fix.

How do they happen?

New homeowners tend to be a bit more alarmed than the experienced about cracks in the walls of their home. Take a deep breath – there are three common reasons for these cracks:

Settling – Over time, homes “settle.” “This is simply a result of the downward force of gravity on physical structures,” according to the pros at Edens Structural Solutions in Bixby, OK. As they settle, cracks may form.

Humidity affects wood-framed homes by causing the wood to expand and contract. “This in turn puts stress on the plaster or drywall in front of it,” according to the experts at HJ3 Composite Technologies, LLC in Tucson, AZ.

Old homes typically have plaster walls, instead of drywall. Over time, plaster becomes loose, causing it to crack.

Problem drywall can be a problem

If your home was built between 2001 and 2009, you may have what is known as “problem drywall.” Not all do, but enough homes have it to be aware that yours might too.

If you do, you’ll want to take remediation steps before working on the wall. Learn how at cpsc.gov, the website for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Repairing standard drywall

Once you’ve determined that your home doesn’t contain problem drywall, you can get to work fixing those cracks and holes.

If this is your first time, check out some of the instructional videos on YouTube, like these from Howdini, Buildipedia and This Old House.

  • Cracks – Smaller cracks are a cinch to repair. Apply drywall compound, let it dry completely and then sand the area until it’s smooth and level.

For larger cracks, use the drywall compound and then apply fiberglass tape over it while it’s still wet.

  • Small holes – Use painter’s putty to fill the hole and level it using a putty knife or drywall knife. Allow it to dry, sand it down and then apply spackle. When that dries, give it another sanding.
  • Medium-sized holes –The ideal material for a hole that is too large to patch with putty is a drywall patch, available at home improvement and hardware stores.

 Stick it to the wall and then apply joint compound over it. Allow the compound to dry and then sand down the high spots.

Large holes – Even out the irregular shape of the hole by using a saw to cut around the edges. Cut a piece of new drywall to fit inside the hole and apply fiber reinforcing tape or fiberglass tape around the edges.

Slap some joint compound over the area, sand it smooth when it dries and then apply another layer of the compound (the video at Buildipedia will walk you through this entire process).

Once you’ve sanded your repairs, it’s time to paint over them. Use a heavy nap roller to ensure that the texture of the repaired area blends with the rest of the wall.