Furniture arrangement 101: Welcome to your new home

If you’ve ever toured the model homes in a new home community, you may understand that interior decorating is an art. It’s not just the tastefully designed furniture and accessories, however, that create the perfect room. The placement of these elements has a great deal to do with the overall appeal of a design.

“Smart furniture placement can make a well-laid-out room even more appealing and functional,” claims Susan Yoder, a designer for Clayton Homes.

“Having so much space to work with can be intimidating, so it’s important to put some thought into how you’ll arrange things ahead of time.”

Here are a few things to keep in mind when planning your furniture arrangement.

Determine how you’ll use the room

What is the purpose of the room? Will the family use the living room to watch TV or will you save that room for more formal purposes and use the family room for the casual family get-togethers?

If you own a small home, without an alternative room, you may not have a choice. In that case, carve out zones in the room and arrange the furniture to delineate them.

For instance, orient the sofa to face the TV and create a separate area with comfy chairs, a small side table and lamp for those solitary moments you spend reading or conversing one-on-one.

Determine a focal point

Where is your eye drawn when you enter the room? This is the room’s focal point. Typical spots to create this point include a fireplace or large window with a view.

If the room lacks a natural focal point, create one by painting a wall in an accent color or using a piece of artwork or furniture, such as a bookcase.

Whatever you choose as your focal point, accent it with attractive accessories and then position the furniture so that it faces it yet doesn’t block the view from the room’s entry.

Create traffic flow

Professional designers say that one of their pet peeves is homeowners that neglect natural traffic paths in rooms and have a tendency to block them. “These paths will go between any entries into the room to any other entry into the room. People will instinctively take the quickest route, that being a straight line,” say the experts at Verona Interiors in St. Louis, Missouri.

Make sure you don’t crowd the entryways to the room with furniture pieces. Make it easy to enter and exit the room.

Once inside the room, there should be enough room to walk through it without bumping into or having to maneuver around furniture.

Keep furniture to scale

Oversized furniture in small rooms not only disrupt traffic flow, but may obliterate the room’s focal point, thereby making the room feel even smaller than it is.

The same can be said for large rooms with dinky furniture. The size of your furniture should match the size of the room. Yes, that sounds obvious, but designers say it’s a common mistake among homeowners.

Need more tips on how to arrange furniture in your new home? Pinterest offers lots of ideas as does Better Homes & Gardens and HGTV.

Reverse Mortgage vs. Home Equity Line of Credit

If you’re short on cash, you’ll be glad you made that decision to buy instead of continue renting, because you can borrow money against the equity in your home.

Now, however, you’ll need to make another big decision: Which “dip” into the home equity pool offers more bang for the buck?

For older Americans, that decision typically comes down to a choice between a reverse mortgage or a home equity line of credit. While both offer a way for you to get your hands on your home’s equity when you need it the most, one is less expensive but the other is safer.

There are other differences between the two solutions as well. Let’s take a closer look at some of those.

  • What is a reverse mortgage?
  • What is a HELOC?
  • Eligibility requirements
    • How to qualify for a reverse mortgage
    • How to qualify for a HELOC
  • Costs
  • A quick look at the pros and cons of each

What is a reverse mortgage?

You may hear the reverse mortgage referred to as the HECM, which is short for Home Equity Conversion Mortgage. While there are other reverse mortgage programs available (such as the proprietary or “jumbo” reverse mortgage for expensive homes), the HECM is by far the most popular, and accounts for the bulk of reverse mortgages granted.

This isn’t to say that the HECM is popular. In fact, “While about a million homeowners retire every year, fewer than 60,000 HECMs will be written this year,” according to The Mortgage Professor.

He chalks up the lack of interest in the program to a healthy skepticism on the part of those who it is designed to help—older Americans.

In a nutshell, the HECM is a creation of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and it is overseen and insured by the FHA.

Although it’s considered a loan, there are no payments required until the borrower either moves out of the home or the last borrower passes away.

Borrowers will still need to pay their property taxes, hazard insurance premiums, HOA dues (if applicable) and for upkeep on the home.

Unlike the HELOC, however, the funds borrowed can be delivered in a number of ways, from a lump sum, to a line of credit or monthly draw. You may even receive a combination of these methods, at your discretion.

What is a HELOC?

While a HELOC (pronounced “hee-lock,” and short for home equity line of credit) is a loan, it doesn’t offer the borrower a lump sum, such as you might receive if you take out a personal loan. Instead, the borrower receives a line of credit, similar to a credit card.

In fact, when making a draw against your loan, you’ll use a dedicated credit card or check.

HELOCS carry a time limit, known as the “draw period,” set by the lender and it varies, depending on lender. For instance, the lender may offer you a 10-year draw period. Upon expiration of the period, you will no longer have access to the HELOC and the repayment period begins.

Repayment can consist of either a balloon payment of the total amount due or monthly payments for a specific time period.

Eligibility requirements

How to qualify for a reverse mortgage

  • The reverse mortgage is available to homeowners who are at least 62 years of age.
  • You must either own the home outright or have a significant amount of home equity. There must be no debt against the home, so if you choose this route you’ll need to pay off the current mortgage from the proceeds of the reverse mortgage.
  • The home must be the borrower’s primary residence.
  • There is no minimum credit score requirement for the HECM, but the lender will look into your ability to pay the taxes, HOA fees, insurance premiums and upkeep of the home.
  • The borrower must not be in arrears on any debt owed the federal government (such as a government-insured student loan or tax payments).
  • HECM applicants are required to attend a housing counseling session.

How to qualify for a HELOC

HELOC eligibility varies, according to lender. Typical requirements include:

  • A credit score of 760 or more, although it may be possible to obtain the loan with a lower score.
  • Your equity must be at least 15 percent of the home’s value. The lender will require an appraisal of the home to verify its current value.
  • The borrower must have a debt-to-income ratio of 43 percent, although some lenders may consider a DTI as high as 50 percent.
  • A history of paying debts on time.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both programs – something we’ll take a look at in the coming weeks.

We are not mortgage professionals, so please speak with yours before proceeding with any mortgage product.

3 Inexpensive (and Fast) Upgrades for Your Condo

We’re willing to bet that your single-family-home-owning friends are a bit envious of your condo-living lifestyle. After all, owning a house comes with an almost never-ending list of maintenance expenses.

You, on the other hand, can use what you would’ve spent on lawn service, pool cleaning and roof repairs for the more enjoyable stuff – like cosmetic upgrades for your home.

The good news is that you don’t need to save up big bucks to breathe new life into your condo before you put it on the market or just for your own enjoyment. These three upgrades are quick, easy, inexpensive and most of all, potential buyers will notice them.

1. Kitchen and Bathroom Cabinets

As tempting as it is to entertain notions of replacing the facings on your cabinets, it isn’t easy and it’s far from cheap. There are other ways to refresh them, though, that won’t break the bank.

New pulls, knobs, and handles on those cabinets will completely transform their appearance. Plus, they’re typically inexpensive, although you can buy ultra-high-end pieces. Best of all, installing them is a suitable task for homeowners without too much DIY experience.

Just be sure to unscrew one handle to see what’s underneath it before heading off to the store. And, watch Better Home & Garden’s handy video on how to change cabinetry hardware. You’ll find the video at BHG.com.

Cabinet hardware is available from a variety of sources including the big home improvement stores and online retailers, such as Wayfair.com and Rejuvenation.com. If you’re short on cash, try visiting your local Habitat for Humanity ReStore.

2. Window Treatments

Curtains and blinds tend to be one of those things that you handle once and then forget about forever. After all, once they’ve proven themselves to regulate the light (and your privacy) efficiently, why change them?

Except, that means your window treatments may give your rooms an outdated appearance. And, they may not work as effectively as you think.

Take time to browse alternatives and you may just find some that will transform the mood of every room in your house. You’ll find inspiration online at HouseBeautiful.com and HGTV.com.

3. Lighting

New lighting will always make a room feel newer and brighter. If you can afford to replace outdated fixtures completely, you should consider it now.

Since the rooms in condos tend to be a bit smaller than those in a single-family home, you’ll need to keep scale in mind when buying new lighting.

Before you shop for new lamps and fixtures, learn some tips on how to choose the right one for each room. Forbes.com and Lumens.com both offer up helpful information.

You’ll find a large assortment of lighting at the big home improvement stores, such as Home Depot and Lowe’s.

Online, check out the assortment at LampsPlus.com, Wayfair.com and PotteryBarn.com.

If you can’t buy new lighting, a little change in lamp shades or brighter bulbs may just do the trick.

Want to do something more drastic, like painting? It may be best to wait until later in spring so you can open the windows and doors of your condo while you do it. But fresh paint on the walls is one of the best investments you can make before putting the condo up for sale.

Coolest home tech ideas from 2020’s CES convention

The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was held last month in Las Vegas and, as usual, innovation abounds.

We scoured the home-oriented tech that’s coming out soon and found some we thought you might be interested in learning more about.

We just want to know, which one is Alexa?

Neon, the artificial human chatbot, was unveiled at January’s CES convention and to say it’s amazing would be an understatement.

Neon’s purpose is to put a face and body to the faceless, bodiless virtual assistants we now use in or homes – you know, Alexa and Siri and the like.

It’s better explained in a YouTube video we found online, posted by Good Tech.

The narrator of the video is spot on when he says it’s impossible to tell the difference between Samsung’s computer-generated “people” and the real deal.

It turns out, none of them is Alexa. Neon isn’t an AI assistant, according to Shara Tibken at Cnet.com.

Unlike AI assistants, Neons do not know it all, and “they are not an interface to the internet to ask for weather updates or to play your favorite music,” Tibkin quotes from a company spokesperson.

Learn more about Neon, when it is expected to be released and more at Cnet.com.

 Take a shower with Alexa

Kohler showed off its new Moxie Showerhead at the 2020 CES in Las Vegas and picked up an Innovation Award in the process.

Built in to it is Amazon’s smart speaker and the voice behind it, Alexa. We don’t know about you, but we do some of our best thinking while showering and now you can have Alexa right there to take notes for you, set reminders, set alarms, etc.

You can also catch up on the news, check the weather, get a stock update and use other Alexa skills you have enabled.

There are actually two showerheads, one is Blue Tooth enabled and the other A.I. (Alexa). Learn more about it at Multivu.com.

Hydraloop

Winner of the 2020 CES Innovation in Sustainability, Eco-Design, and Smart Energy award, Hydra Loop “promises to help you conserve water in the home.” How?

By “recycling and cleaning about 85 percent of water use at home,” according to John Breaux at sdentertainer.com.

What this means for homeowners is that they’ll most likely recoup the $4,000 price tag for the Hydraloop:

  • Reducing the amount of water used by 45 percent
  • Reducing the amount of “sewage emission” by 45 percent
  • Reducing energy bills

Learn more about Hydraloop and how you can order one (later this year) at Electrek.co.

Arlo Pro 3 Floodlight Camera

If you’re keen on home security, you’ll love this one. Presented by Arlo, it’s an outdoor smart camera “with a massive floodlight slapped on the front,” according to Hugh Langley at TechRadar.com. In fact, this “massive floodlight” provides 3,000 lumens.

Recordings are in color (unusual for basic night-vision smart cameras) and you control the timing, the brightness and whether the light flashes when something triggers it.

Langley says that in addition to this, “you’ve got a 160-degree field of view, two-way audio, and six months of battery life.” Available this spring, it’ll retail for $249.99. Learn more about the Arlo Pro 3 Floodlight Camera and sign up for availability notification at Arlo.com.

4moms® mamaRoo sleep™ Bassinet

While it isn’t cutesy, it is incredibly innovative and something that moms and dads of especially fussy infants may love. The bassinet snagged CES Innovator Honoree award.

If you already own the mamaRoo infant seat you’re familiar with some of the tech-enabled motions (that mimic “natural motions of parents,” according to the company) you’ll find in the bassinet:

  • Car ride
  • Kangaroo
  • Wave
  • Tree swing
  • Rock-a-bye

In addition, the bassinet offers five vibration speed options and four choices of white noise, all controllable with the 4moms app.

The retail price is $329.99 which is a bargain for parents of colicky babies. They also offer a payment plan. Check it out, watch the different motions and more at 4moms.com.

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.

Walls

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.

Floors

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.

Fabrics

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.

Why?

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.

Move

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.

Holly

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.