Help! Why are my houseplants dying?

It’s hard enough to keep our outdoor plants alive during hot summers and frigid winters, but when our indoor plants start popping off it can be even more alarming. When symptoms arise, the first step is to check for evidence of a pest infestation. Lacking that, it’s time to reconsider how you’ve been caring for the plant.

Since plants vary in their needs, it is challenging to find the right balance of moisture in the soil, sunlight-to-shade and optimal temperatures. Luckily, most plants sold to be grown indoors hail from the tropics, specifically tropical rainforests. Recreate those conditions and you should be one step closer to providing a healthy environment for your houseplants.

Water

The symptoms of both under-watering and overwatering can be similar, but as a rule of thumb, if the leaves seem soft, with spots that appear rotten, and they aren’t developing as they should, too much water may be the culprit.

Plants that don’t receive sufficient water have foliage that appears dry, with brown edges and the leaves on the lower part of the plant may be yellow or curled. Help the dry plant by watering more frequently.

Few houseplants (aside from succulents) can tolerate dry soil but you don’t want the roots to sit in soggy soil so aim for the soil moisture content to be similar to a well-wrung sponge.

If you aren’t sure when to water, stick your finger into the soil, about an inch deep. If it feels dry, water the plant slowly until water drains from the bottom of the pot. Another way to water is to place the pot in a container and add water to the container until it reaches halfway up the outside of the pot. The soil will suck the water from the container. When the top of the soil is wet, remove the plant from the water and allow it to drain completely before placing it back in its saucer.

Light

Even plants that thrive in shade require a bit of light now and then. Think of the understory in a rain forest – the play of light between the tall trees’ foliage. That’s dappled sunlight and many houseplants thrive in it. Others, however, require more sun. If any of your houseplants display the following symptoms, move them to a place where they will get more (indirect) sunlight:

  • Foliage that curls upward
  • The plant is stretching toward the light source
  • New growth is unusually small
  • Leaves fall off the plant

Before moving the plant, check the foliage for dust. Even a small amount can block sunlight, so dust the leaves before relocating the plant.

Humidity

If you’ve ever visited the tropics, you’ll recall that the air is heavy with moisture. Many houseplants, such as the Boston fern and African violet, thrive in this type of environment. Unfortunately, with heaters running in the winter and the A/C in the summer, the air inside our homes tends to dry out.

If your African violets’ buds fail to open, suspect a lack of humidity as the cause. Other symptoms include darkened edges of leaves, dry and shriveled leaves and slow plant growth.

A cool-mist humidifier, set close enough to the plant so that it benefits from the moist air but the foliage doesn’t become wet, is the ideal solution. Double potting the plants may help as well. Choose an additional pot that is just slightly wider than the one in which your plant is growing and place the potted plant in it. Then, fill the empty spaces around the smaller pot with peat moss. Keep the moss moist and it will provide a moderate amount of humidity for the plant.

Temperature

Plants that drop leaves may be telling you they don’t like the temperature of the room. The ideal temperature for many houseplants is between 68 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Place plants away from any sources of drafts, such as doorways, furnaces and air conditioning vents.

Nutrients

Experts recommend that houseplants be fed monthly while they are actively growing, and that fertilizer be withheld in the winter. The symptoms of a plant in need of nutrients mimic those of other maladies, so if none of the above seem to help the plant, consider how much and how often you fertilize it. Dropping lower leaves, weak growth or a pale or yellow-green color signifies a nutritional deficiency. Burned leaves means it may be getting too much or that the fertilizer isn’t diluted properly. Organic fertilizers will help you avoid the burn, as long as you don’t use too much. Follow the label directions carefully.

 

What retirees need to consider about their homeowners insurance

Homeowner insurance retiree

Paying for your homeowner’s insurance is a routine that, over the years, becomes habit. The experts at AARP warn that allowing this routine to continue mindlessly can be a costly mistake.

As we reach retirement, our insurance needs change. You may find yourself scaling back on many things, including the contents of your home. This makes pre-retirement the ideal time to reflect on your homeowner’s coverage to ensure that your current policy protects the assets you’ve worked so hard to accumulate and money isn’t being wasted to insure items you no longer own.

Do you know what your homeowners insurance covers?

Many homeowners don’t have a clue as to what is and isn’t covered by their insurance policy. Ask yourself some basic questions: Are you absolutely sure of what is both covered and excluded in your policy? Does your policy cover you for burglary and acts of God? How much will the insurance company give you in cash and how long will it take them to pay? If you don’t know the answers to these basic questions, it’s a good idea to take the time to dig out your policy and do a little detective work and some number crunching. Ask your insurance agent to run an official analysis on what it would cost to rebuild your home.

By the time you reach retirement, you’ve accumulate lots of “stuff”

Next, take an inventory of the contents of the home. This is a time-consuming process so don’t feel as if you need to tackle it all at once. Do one room at a time and be thorough. Use a video camera, if you have one, and narrate the scene as you film. A regular camera will suffice if you don’t have a video camera.

Take close-up photos of anything of significant value and write a description of the item on the back of the photo. Be specific on your inventory, making note of each item’s current condition, how much you paid to acquire the item, and where and when you purchased it. If any item has a brand name or model number, make note of that as well.

Be especially mindful of any expensive items, such as art, jewelry and antiques. Finally, make a copy of your inventory and place it off-site, such as in a safe deposit box, or with one of your adult children. You should now have a good idea as to the value of your home’s contents.

Keep in mind that most homeowner’s insurance policies cover the contents of the home only up to a certain amount. You may need a separate insurance schedule for any items of significant value.

Deciding on a deductible

Determine how much of a deductible you can afford to pay now that you’re on a fixed income. If disaster strikes, will you be able to come out of pocket to cover the current deductible? This is an especially important consideration for retirees who need to weigh their cash assets against the savings that may be realized with a higher deductible.

Finally, consider the liability coverage on your home and ensure that it is enough to protect your assets.

Notify your insurance agent upon retirement. She can help you to determine any discounts you may be eligible for and how to become eligible for even more. For instance, did you know that installing burglar alarms, sprinkler systems, smoke detectors and dead bolt locks might result in a lower premium? Insuring your car with the company that provides your homeowner’s insurance may result in a reduction in premium as well.

Experts recommend that retirees revisit their homeowner’s insurance policy annually, especially if you downsize your home or acquire or sell any of its contents.

Many retirees place their sole focus on their health insurance needs while the homeowner’s policy falls through the cracks. Don’t be one of them.

Spring is on the way — how’s that garden looking?

get your garden ready for spring

Although spring doesn’t officially start until Monday, March 20, we did gain more than an extra hour of daylight last month. Sure, it’s still cold and sometimes wet outside, but when did that stop the avid gardener from trying to find ways to get a head start on the spring gardening season?

Planting anything may be challenging right now, but there are other ways to feed your green thumb and get your knees dirty in your garden

Make a plan

If you’ve decided to shake up the garden this year, get your plan on paper as soon as possible. For inspiration, visit Pinterest, Fine Gardening or Gardenologist. Then, make a list of what you’ll purchase when the season begins. Consider choosing native trees and shrubs as they’re adapted to our climate and therefore require less water and maintenance.

Once you decide what you’ll plant, figure out where you’ll plant. Spend about 30 minutes putting your plan to scale on graph paper, making note of the square footage of each bed in the margins. Not only will this plan help you determine your planting scheme, but calculating topsoil and amendments becomes far easier as well.

Get your tools and equipment ready for spring

Drag the garden hoe, spades and shovels out of storage and get to work cleaning them up. Use a wire brush to scrape off last year’s residue and then rinse well. When they’re dry, squirt some WD-40® on a rag and use it to wipe down the face of each tool to help ward off rust. If they’re already rusty, soak them in a bucket of white vinegar for two to three hours, rinse them with water from the hose and then apply the WD-40®. Use sandpaper to lightly sand splinters from wood handles and then rub them with linseed oil.

Check the blades of your pruners, saws and other cutting equipment. Sticky blades can be cured with a wipe of rubbing alcohol (be careful if the blades are sharp). If they’re not sharp, use a whetstone or file to sharpen them or, take them to a professional. Some Ace Hardware stores offer gardening equipment sharpening (even lawnmower blades) and Home Depot sells sharpening kits.

Before you know it, you’ll be dragging out the lawn equipment as well so get a head start on the season by getting the mower, tiller and edger in top shape. In fact, the experts at Troy-Bilt recommend that you give your equipment a tune up at least once a year. Start by cleaning the body, then change the oil and sharpen the blades. Check that all bolts and screws are tight and you’re ready to go.

Prepare planting pots

Whether you plan on buying existing plants for your flowerpots or starting them from seed, if you’ll be reusing last year’s containers you’ll need to get them cleaned up and disinfected.

Dump out the old soil and use a wire brush to remove any caked on fertilizer salts, roots and soil. Wash each container in warm, soapy water and then rinse. Finally, allow the pots to soak for 15 minutes in a solution of one-part household bleach and 9 parts of water. Rinse them again and allow them to air dry.

Yes, you can prune some plants

Some of the most popular flowering trees and shrubs must be pruned in cool weather to avoid disease. But avoid pruning when the weather is damp. “Absolutely, do not prune if it’s wet out, it spreads a lot of diseases,” cautions horticulturist April Johnson. “Wait until the sun’s out for a little while; it dries out and kills mold and bacteria,” she concludes.

When conditions are right, get outdoors and prune your apple tree, oaks, flowering crabapples and honeylocust. Start by thinning out any branches that cross over one another. This avoids raw bark when the wind blows and they rub together. Then, move on to thinning out crowded spots, to allow sunlight to penetrate and air to circulate, creating conditions inhospitable to many disease organisms. Make the cut just above the swollen area where the branch joins another branch or the trunk (the branch collar).

Be brutal with the older shrub that didn’t perform well last season. Cut it down to within 6 inches of the soil. The University of Minnesota calls this “chain saw pruning” and promises the shrub will fill out quickly and perform better when the weather warms.

Check the compost pile

“Even in winter, a compost pile is alive, an ecosystem in flux,” claims Genevieve Slocum at rodalesorganiclife.com. She recommends that you continue to “feed” your compost pile with kitchen scraps, such as vegetable peelings, coffee grinds and eggshells, throw in some newspaper (shredded, of course), manure from chickens or rabbits if you raise them or blood meal if you don’t. Add fallen leaves, straw and anything else that’s organic that you find in the garden. To help speed up decomposition, shred or chop everything into 2-inch or smaller pieces.

While composting in warmer temperatures involves merely throwing everything onto a pile, Slocum recommends that here at the tail-end of winter we should create 2- to 4-inch layers of “green” items (kitchen scraps, etc.) and cover them with 5- to 7-inch layers of the “brown” items (newspaper, hay, dead leaves, etc.). Keep repeating the process until your compost pile is to the height you desire.

Get these chores done now and you can hit the ground running when the warmer weather rolls around.

 

Need to sell your home? It’s all about the marketing

Professional photos sell homes

There’s no secret to getting a home sold quickly – the more people that view it, the better your chances of a quick sale. Unfortunately, too many real estate agents take a “list and pray” attitude toward their home-selling clients – trying to get away with sticking a sign into the dirt, a lockbox on the door and two or three photos on the MLS listing.

Sure, that might work in a hot sellers’ market, but it may also fail. Are you willing to take that chance? Since you will pay the same amount for the list-and-pray agent as you will for the guerilla marketer, shouldn’t you do your best to find the latter and eschew the former?

The key to getting lots of folks through the front door of your home for sale requires a plan and a robust marketing budget to back up that plan.

Keep this in mind when you’re interviewing listing agents. Don’t be afraid to ask them for a copy of their marketing plans, ask to see examples of past marketing efforts and ensure that the agent has the money to put that plan into action.

Getting the listing price right isn’t rocket science

It’s true that pricing a home too high may cause it to languish on the market and the homeowner may even end up getting less for it than hoped. But overpriced homes are typically the work of homeowners, not real estate agents. Determining the market value of a home isn’t rocket science – it’s something we all learn as beginners. Sure, with practice comes perfection, but coming up with market value isn’t our most important task when we take a listing – marketing most certainly is.

Marketing, in a nutshell, is the megaphone for your listing – it screams to the world that your house is for sale, that it’s worth taking a look at and why it’s better than the competition. While there are many ways to accomplish this, the best includes a combination of several. The most important weapon in the marketing arsenal, however, is photography.

Photographs can make or break the sale of a home

Americans are visual creatures and nothing proves this more than the Internet. Websites such as Pinterest achieved their success through the visual medium. Advertising agencies understand this concept and spend weeks to complete a single, what seems to be simple, photo shoot. Because they were hired to convince us to purchase a service or product, photography takes on a critical role.

The same holds true in the real estate industry. Take a tour of any real estate site that offers a glimpse into the local MLS and you’ll find far too many listings that lack any photos at all or offer up photos of homes that are blurry, off center and just downright curious in many cases. Since most homebuyers take to the Internet to begin their search for a home, these photos are useless to the poor homeowner who is just trying to move on to the next phase in her or his life.

The statistics

Studies prove that homes that are photographed by a professional net the owner more money and sell faster than those that were marketed using photographs snapped by an amateur. In fact, a national real estate conglomerate conducted a study that found that the use of a DSLR camera to photograph homes listed between $200,000 and $1 million netted the homeowner from $3,400 to more than $11,000 more than homes that were photographed by a novice. Another study finds that the sharper the photograph, the more money the seller will net at the close of escrow.

It may sound trite, but for many Americans, their home is their largest financial investment. It only makes sense that they want to get every last penny they can when it comes time to cash in. Approach the sale of your home as a business transaction. Search out the best professionals to assist you and you’ll be successful.

3 easy tips for a dreamy bedroom

Make your bedroom a sanctuary

If your bedroom is merely a place to sleep and to store your clothing — if it isn’t a sanctuary to help buffer you from the effects of a hectic day — it’s time to make some changes. Not only will our tips help you to sleep more soundly, but they’ll help you look forward to that moment when you switch off the TV and pad down the hallway to shake off the world.

1.Use your senses to help you plan

Psychologists have written volumes about the psychology of color, even when it comes to residential wall paint. “Room color, particularly in your home, can dramatically affect moods, feelings and emotions,” psychiatrist Dr. Julia Shugar of Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in New York tells foxnews.com.

Professional decorators, on the other hand, suggest that you choose paint colors that appeal to you the most. In fact, the experts at HGTV suggest that since the bedroom is “the most personal space in your home,” you should “let the colors you love be your guide.” When looking at paint swatches, ask yourself how the color makes you feel. If it evokes a sense of calmness and relaxation, it may just be the ideal color for your bedroom walls.

Enlist your sense of smell when considering how to decorate your bedroom. Scented room sprays, incense and essential oil diffusers can all help, but so will throwing the windows wide to allow fresh air into the room.

Noisy neighbors and barking dogs can kill the chill you’re trying to create so consider purchasing a white noise machine or water fountain, if you love the sound of trickling water.

You might also like the 8-minute long “Weightless,” by Marconi Union (believe it or not, there is also a 10-hour version). The British Academy of Sound has dubbed it “the most relaxing song in the world,” Apparently, the song’s 80 beats per minute will cause your heart to sync with it, lowering your blood pressure.

“The eight-minute track is so effective at inducing sleep, motorists have now been warned they should not listen to it whilst driving,” claims Daily Mail’s David Gerges.

2. Make it an electronics-free zone

Neuroscientists claim that blue light – which is emitted by electronic devices, such as a TV – disrupts our sleep cycles. “Changes in sleep patterns can in turn shift the body’s natural clock, known as its circadian rhythm,” Scientific American’s Jessica Schmerler says. She concludes that “shifts in this clock can have devastating health effects because it controls not only our wakefulness but also individual clocks that dictate function in the body’s organs. In other words, stressors that affect our circadian clocks, such as blue-light exposure, can have much more serious consequences than originally thought.”

Not only that, but studies also show that Americans with a TV in the bedroom tend to stay up later than those who don’t have a TV in the room.

So, get that TV out of the bedroom and consider also evicting the Kindle, smartphone, iPad, laptop and even the digital alarm clock.

3. Slip between the sheets

Now that you’ve painted the walls, camouflaged unwanted noises and 86’d the blue-light-emitting perpetrators, it’s time to slip into something a bit more comfortable – a bed that is fit for dreaming.

What you slip between when you crawl into bed at the end of the day can make or break your relaxation level. Sheets lay the foundation for everything else. A lot of fuss is made over thread count whenever bed sheets are discussed, but that isn’t the end-all, be-all when it comes to determining whether or not a sheet will be comfortable. “Despite the notion that more is better, in our past sheet tests we confirmed that a higher thread count doesn’t guarantee better sheets,” suggests Consumer Reports. Ply and weave are also important considerations, according to Vogue’s Zoe Taubman.

Top the sheets with a cozy quilt, bedspread or comforter and then a pile of pillows.

Yes, there is more you can do to create that sanctuary bedroom. Consider adding live plants to help cleanse the air in the room and add a pop of color and texture, lighting that you can adjust to suit your mood and something comfy to step on when you rise in the morning.

 

 

Spring fever? Turn your home into a money maker!

add value to your home with a deck

February, in many parts of the country, is that month when spring fever starts to set in. The phenomenon is no old wive’s tale, either, Sanford Auerbach, M.D., director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Boston University, told Web MD. That itch to spend time outdoors and the increase in energy can all be chalked up to very real chemical and hormonal changes that take place within us when the sun makes its reappearance.

If 2017 is the year you plan on selling your home, take that energy and channel it into transforming its exterior into your neighborhood’s cash cow. We’ll help you do just that, with some suggestions from Remodeling Magazine’s 2017 Cost vs. Value report.

Cost vs. Value

Would you be surprised to learn that although bathroom and kitchen renovations offer the best return on your interior remodeling dollars, several exterior projects bring similar returns, yet cost less?

For instance, replacing the garage door will run you about $1,700 (nationwide average), according to Remodeling’s report. The return on investment when you sell your home, however, is almost 77 percent. A kitchen upgrade, on the other hand, costs far more and the ROI is about 65 percent.

Now, if your kitchen is in such poor condition that buyers will be repelled, by all means, make its updating a priority. But, all else being equal, you’ll spend less and get higher returns with several exterior projects.

Ah, alfresco dining

Spring and summer usher in the seasons of dining and cocktailing outdoors on patios and decks. A home for sale in either season, therefore, is far more attractive when the stage is set for enjoying the outdoors.

If the home lacks a deck, consider adding one. The cost of a composite deck, according to Remodeling Magazine’s study, varies, but the nationwide average is $17,000, with a ROI of just a tad more than 65 percent. But, you can save money and get a higher return by installing a wood deck. At an average cost of $10,707, the ROI is 71.5 percent.

Homebuyers find decks appealing for a number of reasons. The additional “point of egress from the home to the yard” tends to add value, according to DB Design Builders in Maryland. Mostly, however, decks are ideal entertaining spaces, which have been in high demand over the past decade.

Curb appeal projects

It’s a well-known fact that if the exterior of your home doesn’t beckon, buyers won’t bother viewing the interior. So, put that spring fever energy boost to good use by amping up the appeal of your home’s exterior.

Consider replacing the siding. Not only will the project give buyers peace-of-mind, but the improvement to the home’s curb appeal is immeasurable. Nationwide, new siding runs around $14,500. At close of escrow, however, you stand to recoup about 76 percent of your investment.

The exterior improvement with the highest return on investment is replacing the front door with one made of steel. The cost is about $1,400 and the ROI is nearly 91 percent.

For the budget minded

Ok, so you don’t have $10,000 to blow on a new deck; there are exterior home improvement projects you can perform that not only cost less, but offer a healthy return on investment. Not mentioned in Remodeling’s study is the value of landscaping.

There are many studies of everything from how much value a single tree can add to your home (see the National Arbor Day Foundation’s National Tree Benefit Calculator), to the ROI of a complete landscape makeover. Merely “good” landscaping may add up to 28 percent to the overall value of your home, John Harris, landscape economist tells houselogic.com. Transform it to “excellent,” condition, however, and you’re looking at an additional 6 to 7 percent on top of that.

Since the landscaping offers your home’s first impression, it only makes sense that making it more appealing to potential buyers should be job one.

Money wasters

Remodeling Magazine’s report is broken down into mid-range and high-range projects, so your mileage on the aforementioned numbers may vary. The addition of a composite deck on a high-end home, for instance, may be a waste of money. With a cost of nearly $40,000, you will see a paltry 56.4 percent return on the money invested.

While decks are popular home features, backyard patios may be a waste of your money. The mid-range cost, nationwide, for a 20×20 flagstone patio is $51,985 and the ROI is less than 55 percent.

As the season changes and the serotonin and melatonin wane, release that pent-up energy on the exterior of your home. You won’t regret it when it comes time to sell.

5 tips to get financially ready to buy a home

ftr_591_image

The ability to pay your bills on time and still have money left over at the end of the month makes you financially solvent, important when considering the future purchase of a home. Being able to save money is vital, whether you intend on paying cash or using a mortgage when you buy. Proof that you pay your financial obligations on time and save money can lead to better loan rates and terms.

Getting back on your feet after a financial disaster takes time. It involves patience, hard work and teaching yourself new habits. The sooner you start, though, the sooner you’ll have the keys to your new house.

Set up a budget

If you don’t have a budget, the time to create one is right now. Yes, it’s time consuming and sticking to it once it’s created is challenging. The creation aspect is easier if you use personal finance software, but a spreadsheet will work as well.

First, determine how much money comes into the household every month. Consider all sources of income from all family members.

Then, get out all your bills and make a list, breaking them down into fixed and variable expenses. The former includes your auto loan payment, mortgage payment (if you have a fixed rate mortgage) or rent payment. The latter group will include utility payments, groceries and incidentals.

Plan on taking a month to keep track of every penny spent, from your bill payments to gas for the car to the latte you pick up on the way to work in the morning. At the end of the month, enter these totals into the budget under “expenses.”

By now you’ll have a picture of where your money goes every month, and an indication of where you may be wasting money. Of course you’ll want to cut out the waste first, directing those funds to the rest of the plan.

Pay off debts

Prioritize your debt and bill payments every month. Along with paying your monthly bills, ensure that secured debts are paid first – such as car or mortgage payments. Pay at least the minimum monthly payment on credit card accounts and unsecured loan repayments, except for the one with the highest interest rate. Pay a little bit more on that one every month until it’s paid off and then start working on the one with the next highest balance. (Financial guru Suze Orman suggests cutting up all of your credit cards except one and to keep that one at home, using it only for emergencies.)

Paying your bills on time, which you will do with the assistance of your budget, and paying off debts helps lower your credit score. Borrowers with a credit score of 760 or above qualify for the best mortgage rates.

Make changes in your spending habits

After a few months of budgeting you’ll find areas in it in which you can cut back on spending. Some of these might include taking the bus to work instead of driving, brown-bagging at lunch time instead of eating out and being a bit more frugal when you shop. Be brutal in your budget cuts because each one will get you closer to being able to afford your new home.

Make more money

Cutting your budget expenditures and paying down debt aren’t the only ways to move quickly down the road toward homeownership. Finding ways to make more money, whether it’s volunteering for overtime hours at work, taking on a part-time job (Uber is always hiring!), selling unused items on Craigslist, the extra cash will push you faster and further down the road to home ownership.

Save Money

Once you have your debt under control it’s time to start saving money. Unless you’ll pay cash for the home, you’ll need money for a down payment and closing costs. Then, there are all the extras you’ll want to purchase for the home after you move in. We recommend that you plan on accumulating at least 3 to 4 percent of the loan amount for closing costs and from 3.5 percent to 20 percent, depending on the type of loan you obtain, for the down payment.

Cleaning up your finances isn’t easy and saving money may be challenging. Just keep that dream home top-of-mind, though and you’ll remain motivated.

Avoid costly plumbing bills by being kind to your toilet

toilet maintenance

Whether you refer to it as the loo, throne, potty or John, your toilet isn’t quite as indestructible as you may think. Sure, “toilets have an unlimited lifespan,” according to the National Association of Homebuilders, but only if the components inside the tank are maintained properly and leaks are attended to promptly.

Let the maintenance slide, however, and you can plan on spending an average of nearly $200 for repairs, according to homeadvisor.com. If you need to replace the whole thing, you’ll have a bill of about $375, but it could run as high as almost $900.

So, add a “potty check” to your list of routine home maintenance chores and then be kind to the contraption. It will save you money in the long run.

Check the toilet for leaks

One of the most common toilet repairs, according to Ted O’Brien, with O’Brien Plumbing in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, is replacing the wax ring. “The wax ring is a gasket that seals the connection of the toilet bowl to the floor,” he explains. As the ring ages (it’s life span is typically between five and 10 years), it deteriorates, allowing water to seep from the toilet bowl.

A wax ring is inexpensive – as little as $3.50. Sure, the plumber will charge to install it, but what you’ll pay now is a lot less than if you don’t notice the leak and it continues, rotting the subfloor beneath and around the toilet.

A nasty odor is one of the first signs of a leaking wax ring. Odors can also occur from clogged drains, so further inspection may be necessary to determine the true cause. During your maintenance check, inspect the caulking around the base of the toilet to ensure that it’s still in good condition. Look for stains on the floor and, if the bathroom is upstairs, check the ceiling in the room below for signs of water damage. Step on the floor around the toilet. If it feels spongy, you may have a leak.

Check the tank’s components

The toilet won’t stop running – an all too common complaint that plumbers receive. Truthfully, however, it’s an easy problem to diagnose, according to the experts at familyhandyman.com. “There are really only two main parts: the flush valve, which lets water gush into the bowl during the flush; and the fill valve, which lets water refill the tank after the flush. When a toilet runs constantly or intermittently, one of these valves is usually at fault.”

Figuring out which valve is the culprit is easy as well, they say, and offer a photo tutorial on the website. If water is going into the overflow tube, suspect a defective fill valve. If, on the other hand, “the water level is below the top of the tube, the flush valve is leaking, allowing water to trickle into the bowl. . .preventing the fill valve from closing completely.”

O’Brien recommends that homeowners perform a quick visual inspection of the interior of the toilet tank every six months. Remove the lid and flush the toilet. Watch each component, ensuring that the flapper seals adequately and the fill valve fills to the appropriate water level.

Don’t use the toilet as a trash can

Plumbers find all number of items clogging pipes, from children’s toys to “flushable kitty litter” (which, it turns out, isn’t really flushable after all) and many enter the pipes via the toilet.

Avoid a visit from the plumber by avoiding flushing stuff that shouldn’t be flushed (“flushable” wipes, feminine hygiene products, paper towels, cigarette butts, etc.) Keep toddlers out of the bathroom as they have a habit of throwing things into the “potty” to watch them disappear.

Plumbers recommend that nothing but human waste and toilet paper be flushed down the toilet. “If it doesn’t break down in water, it’s not going to break down in the toilet,” warns Eric Corbett, owner of Larry and Sons Plumbing in Hagerstown, MD.

Feed the drainage system

“Consumer Reports says biological drain cleaners are useful at keeping drains free of organic material as long as pipes aren’t clogged,” according to Karen Gardener of The Frederick News- Post. Enzyme-based drain cleaners help dissolve soap scum, wads of hair and other substances that can build up and cause clogs. You can  find these products online at Amazon.com and also at large home improvement stores.

Routine home maintenance is one of the less attractive aspects of homeownership. Ignore it, however, and you’ll likely end up spending obscene amounts of money to repair or replace what you fail to maintain.

5 things you need to know about home warranties

flooded room

One of the biggest fears of most homebuyers is that there is something wrong with the home and it’s waiting for after the move-in to rear its ugly head. It is this fear that brought about the birth of the home inspection industry in the early 1970s. Today’s professional home inspector performs a thorough investigation of a home’s components and systems that are visible to the naked eye. Even the best inspector, however, may miss something, which is why there is so much interested in home warranties.

The idea behind a home warranty is to provide financial protection for homeowners faced with the failure of major mechanical systems, such as the home’s heating and air conditioning. Home warranties provide, most of all, peace of mind.

1. Home warranties aren’t insurance

One would think that with all the hoopla surrounding health insurance, the average American would be well-versed on the subject. Insurance, however, be it health or homeowner’s, is a complicated subject and therefore confusing to many. In a nutshell, your homeowner’s insurance policy covers the home’s structure and certain personal belongings from financial loss due to theft, fire and other calamities. If your water heater is stolen, your homeowner’s policy should cover it. If it breaks down, that’s on you.

Home warranties, by the way, aren’t actually warranties either – at least according to the federal government’s definition: A warranty comes with the purchase of a product and the cost is included in the purchase price.

Since the home warranty is purchased separately from the home and it costs an additional fee, it is best described as a service contract.

2. Typical coverage

Home warranty companies offer a variety of plans and typically the more you pay, the more your plan will cover. Most of the basic warranties – known as “first tier” and “second tier” plans – cover the homes major systems, such as HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning), plumbing (some plans cover outdoor plumbing, such as a sprinkler system) and electrical (typically covered in tier one and tier two plans). Major appliances, including the refrigerator, garbage disposer, range, water heater and washer and dryer are also covered.

3. What’s not covered under a home warranty

Anything that isn’t covered under the home warranty is known as an “exclusion,” and you’ll find these vary between companies.

Most home warranty contracts won’t cover breakdowns due to normal wear and tear. They also exclude anything damaged due to deferred maintenance, insect or vermin damage and acts of God. Structural problems, such as a leaky roof and cracks in the wall are typically not covered, although you may find a company willing to cover these for an additional cost.

4. You can buy optional coverage

Speaking of additional cost, home warranty companies offer optional coverage at additional cost. This includes coverage for a septic system, well, pool, spa and central vacuum system.

5. Are home warranties worth the cost?

The average cost of a home warranty, nationwide, is $969, although most Americans spend as little as $243 and as much as $1,702, according to HomeAdvisor.com. In the event a covered component fails, the warranty provider will send a technician to your home to investigate the problem. You will be required to pay a $55 service fee each time a technician visits your home.

Whether or not home warranties are worth the cost depends on whom you ask. Many real estate professionals feel that purchasing one during the first year of homeownership, when folks are strapped for cash, is a wise move. Some consumer organizations, however, feel otherwise.

In fact, Consumer Reports cautions that “We recommend avoiding service contracts . . . far too often, warranty claims are denied because the company says the problem was pre-existing. Or, the claim is denied because the consumer can’t prove that a broken item was properly maintained.”

If you decide to purchase a home warranty, check the company’s record with the Better Business Bureau. Then, keep impeccable home maintenance records. The home warranty company may demand to view your records if you try to enforce a claim.

Get rid of kitchen clutter

kitchen clutter

 

I think it’s a safe bet that just about every home has a junk drawer. You know, that place you throw things because you can’t figure out where else to put them. Before long, the drawer is overflowing with rolls of tape, bag clips, pens, thumbtacks and other assorted odds and ends. NPR’s Linton Weeks calls them our “accidental time capsule[s].”

While a Moen Consumer and Market Insights Group survey claims that the garage is where Americans stash most of their clutter, the kitchen comes in second, tied with the home office. From stacks of mail to small appliances, respondents complained that their counters resembled their junk drawers.

We took some time to research what organizing experts have to offer by way of tips to unclutter the kitchen. Even if you’re not thinking of selling your home in the near future, these tips will help make life a whole lot easier.

Good clutter vs. bad clutter

The Moen survey finds that there is good clutter and bad clutter. The former includes cutting boards, scrub brushes and, yes, even the random small appliance. Yet professional organizers say that seldom-used kitchen appliances belong in the cupboard, not on the counters. Not only does this create a less cluttered kitchen, but frees up counter space as well.

“Coffee makers are typically used every morning, so it makes sense to have it out all the time,” recommends professional organizer Helena Alkhas. “On the other hand, you may only use your crockpot once a week so the best place to store it is in a cabinet.”

Once you’ve determined what will stay on the counters and what must go, it’s time to devise a decluttering system and Alkhas pares the duration of hers down to 15 minutes.

A place for everything

There is another school of thought, however and that one includes removing everything from every drawer and cupboard, sorting it, disposing of what you never use, storing what you seldom use and placing frequently-used items in an easily accessible spot.

Since we love real estate, cookbook author and pastry chef Alice Medrich’s system especially appeals to us. We also prefer the more relaxed pace of her system and her recommendation to “do it in small bites, an hour at a time, over several weeks.”

In it, she divides the kitchen into three regions:

  1. The space in the kitchen where you do the most work. This includes the counters and cabinets that are easily reached. Medrich calls this region “prime real estate.”
  2. The suburbs in your home are those storage areas closest to the kitchen, such as a pantry or closet.
  3. What we call “rural,” Medrich refers to as the “outlands.” Picture the basement, garage and any cupboards in which you need to stand on something to reach them.

Everything in its place

Although you can begin wherever you choose, Medrich suggests that the prime real estate in the kitchen is best tackled first. You will be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor sooner than if you were to begin in the suburbs or outlands and this instant gratification may help incentivize the rest of the project.

After you’ve cleared everything from the cupboards, begin putting each item away according to how often it’s used. Common sense suggests that seldom-used appliances and gadgets go in the back of cupboards while those items you use more frequently go in the front. Anything that is used annually, such as that huge turkey roasting pan, should be placed in the outlands.

Use storage space wisely

If kitchens sell homes (and they do), pantries sell kitchens. Our buying clients agree that a roomy pantry is a must, but even a smaller one can be put to good use.

Again, break the space within the pantry into zones. These can be anything that makes sense for you but some of the more commonly used by professional organizers include baking, snacks, canned items, breakfast items and pasta and rice. Just as you did with the cupboards, place items you rarely use toward the back of the pantry shelves, allowing easy access to food items you use daily.

Another helpful tip from organizers is to use baskets to keep like items together, such as one for sandwich bags, foil and plastic wrap, another for chips, pretzels and other snacks and a larger one for pet items. Woman’s Day offers up several suggestions to whip the pantry into shape.

When you’ve finished the pantry, consider other clever ways to store frequently-used items that don’t involve stashing them on the counter. House Beautiful, for instance, offers a brilliant idea for storing cutting boards and we love this storage idea from Real Simple for those annoying but useful plastic containers that end up all over the kitchen.