Picking Window Coverings: The Basics

Selecting the right window covering can often be a challenge for many homeowners. You want to control the light streaming into a room, yet you also want your privacy. Many of today’s windows come in “odd” shapes and measurements, making it even more difficult to find the right window covering solution.

When you start shopping for window coverings, there are many factors that you’ll consider (in addition to privacy and light control). Depending on the location of the window, you’ll also look for durability, ease of cleaning, safety and price.

Window coverings range from sheer to opaque:

  • Sheer coverings allow light to enter the room while defusing the glare; objects are fairly visible.
  • Translucent coverings allow light to enter, and although objects are still visible, the view of distinct images is reduced.
  • Filtered coverings transmit filtered light and hinder a view, for more privacy.
  • Semi-opaque coverings are impenetrable by light when closed, but allow some light to come through the gaps.
  • Opaque coverings do not allow light to come through and provide total privacy.

A factor homeowners should consider when choosing window coverings is durability. Your windows are susceptible to harsh conditions – primarily sunlight – that will affect the coverings, too. For instance, your curtains and sheers will filter sunlight; however, they will also fade over time, while shutters and blinds will have a longer life-span.

Cleaning is another important aspect to think through. If you have a window that is high off the floor, you’ll want to pick a window covering that doesn’t need to be cleaned frequently. Fabric coverings are the most difficult to clean, while solid-surface coverings, such as wood, are a bit easier to wipe down and dust.

For families with small children and pets, you may also consider the safety factor of the window coverings you select. Window blinds, for example, have a long cord that raises and lowers the blind – which could be dangerous if played with by young children. Besides being a choking hazard, the cords could release the heavy blinds and injure tiny fingers and arms.

Another factor is price. Professional window treatment companies offer dozens of options for you to consider and that can, for the most part, be customized to fit your windows, but this hands-on service generally is more expensive than doing it yourself. Price also varies between types of window treatments, too. Keep in mind that you often get what you pay for – so if durability is important to you, you’ll want to avoid the cheapest option.

Above all else, make sure you think about the primary function of your window treatment. Are you trying to gain privacy, diffuse light or simply decorate the room? Your end goal will drive the type of window covering you should select – so that you are happy with the results.

A Beautiful Garden … Even in a Drought

Living in Montgomery County, we often find ourselves in a “drought” or with water restrictions because of the lack of rainfall. The grass becomes hard and scratchy, and our scrubs beg for water. Even our potted plants are wilted from the extreme heat.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Tomatoes-in-Pot-GardensSo how do you keep your garden and potted plants looking green and thriving when rainfall is at a premium? Here are some ideas

Look at the type of plants you are using in your garden. Do they need a lot of moisture to thrive … or survive? If you aren’t sure, do some research online or visit your local nursery to find out. If this is the case, you may want to switch the type of plants you are choosing for your garden to ones that are “drought resistant.

Check your soil. Does your soil retain moisture? If you are potting plants, there are several bag mixtures (Miracle Grow is one example) that are specifically geared toward retaining moisture. If you have flowers in beds, you’ll want to make sure you have a thick coating of mulch to help hold in moisture.

Arrange like plants together. Not all plants need the same amount of water to thrive. Some plants need watered every single day, while others like to be thoroughly dried out before they get their next dose of water. Arranging your garden so like plants are together will allow you to conserve water and give your plants what they need to thrive.

Install a drip-irrigation system. These systems are designed to slowly apply water to the plants’ roots zone which maintains a constant and proper moisture level for the plants.

Build a rain barrel. If you want to conserve water and be “green” at the same time, you can install a rain barrel. A rain barrel collects rain water that you can use throughout your garden, as needed.

If your garden and potted plants aren’t looking beautiful because of the summer heat, apply a few of these water-conservation tips to get your garden blooming again.

Enhance Your Backyard with a Fire Feature

There was a time when almost every home had a simple fire pit built in the backyard. It was never anything fancy – usually a circle of bricks or stones where a small campfire could be built. Families would set up folding chairs, roast marshmallows and maybe even tell a few ghost stories. With many of today’s neighborhoods, it may not be feasible to dig a hole in your backyard and build a campfire. You may have to get a bit more creative to relive those warm memories. Here are a few interesting new ways to add a fire feature to your yard.

Wood Fire Pit – If possible, the old-fashioned campfire pit may be just the thing for you, adding a nostalgic or retro-look for your backyard area. Of course, you’ll want to choose a newer stand-alone model with a screened dome (for safety). There are tons of articles and videos online that can help you learn more about which fire pit may be best for you. Of course, before you begin, be sure to check if your municipality or homeowners’ association (HOA) allows an open fire.

Lava-Ceramic-Glass – In lieu of wood logs, you can now find fire pits that have lava stones, ceramic beads and even glass chips in the center. This popular look is very modern and growing in popularity. The glass comes in a variety of colors to complement the rest of your outdoor decor. You can choose a fire feature in any number of vessels, from bowls and troughs to torches and tables. Because of the alternative ‘fire’ methods, the vessels are limitless.

Flame Pots – These pots or bowls are a popular choice for lining a walkway or creating a romantic vibe next to the pool. As the sun sets, light the little flames to set the scene for the rest of the evening. Just a few pots strategically placed around your backyard can change the mood dramatically. These pots come in a large variety of sizes and shapes. They typically use a gel or liquid fuel made specifically to not smoke or smudge. You’ll find some that look just like rocks on fire, and others that are shiny and modern. Choose whatever suits your tastes and decor.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Tiki-torches-150x150Tiki Torches
– This is another backyard feature that has been rediscovered and redesigned over the years. The classic tiki at the Hawaiian luau is one type, yes, but there are many others to choose from anymore. You’ll find this island favorite has gone through a transformation in recent years, and you can now find sleek metal torches in a variety of styles. A convenience factor has been added too. Some styles can be built in with an underground gas supply, and with timers and remotes, as well.

Free-Standing Fireplace – If your backyard has more of a traditional design, a popular trend is to build a free-standing fireplace, surrounded by comfortable furniture to create an outdoor living room. In fact, magazines frequently feature gorgeous outdoor rooms complete with a chandelier and a stone fireplace. The fireplace could be an old pueblo beehive, a stone Tuscan beauty or a magnificent marble creation.b2ap3_thumbnail_Coffe-Table-Fire-Pits-550x335-150x150

Coffee Table Fire – Some more unique fire features include coffee tables with miniature fire pits in the center, in a variety of shapes and styles. You’ll find square coffee tables with a square center fire pit, rectangular tables with long troughs of flames (for a modern design) and even fire “on” water right in the center of the table.

Fire features have come a long way since the days of the dirt fire pit in the backyard. Today, there are so many more possibilities to surround your backyard with the soft light that only comes from an open flame.

How to Trim Your Electric Bill

When it comes to trimming your power bill, you think you are doing everything right. You’ve replaced tired appliances and electronics with EnergyStar® rated ones, you’ve got the kids turning off the lights and television when they leave the room, and you only wash and dry clothes when there is a full load. So why isn’t your power bill budging?

The truth is you probably aren’t doing anything wrong, but there are still a few lesser-known ways to reduce your electric bill.

Talk to the Power Company

b2ap3_thumbnail_electric-bill-150x150This may seem strange – talking to your power company about ways to reduce your bill – but they, too, want to see you conserving energy. Visit their website for helpful tips and ways to conserve energy, or pick up the phone and talk to someone live. They will be able to alert you to any programs they are currently offering.

Many power companies offer reduced rates for those who use power during off-peak hours. For instance, you can use your clothes dryer after specified times of the day and save a fair amount of money, and depending on your area, these savings could really add up over time.

Most electric companies also offer “budgeted” billing, and while this isn’t necessarily a money-saving method, it does alleviate the seasonal ups and downs that can throw your household budget into a tailspin.

Use Power-Saving Technology

One way to significantly reduce your energy bill is to install a programmable thermostat. Most homeowners waste a lot of money keeping their home comfortable when no one’s home. A programmable thermostat will help curtail this practice and conserve energy. Simply program the thermostat appropriately to save money. Many thermostats have features to allow for weekday, weekend and even holiday settings. Of course, you can always manually override the preset programs, but it’s nice to know that once you leave the house, the thermostat will remember to turn the heat down even when you forget.

By now most of us have seen compact florescent lamps, or CLFs – the cork-screw-looking light bulbs. They got a bad-reputation when they first came on the market because they weren’t “bright” enough, but since becoming commonplace, they have also improved greatly. We all know replacing traditional bulbs with CFLs will save you money, but don’t feel like you have to replace all of the lights in your home with CFLs at one time. Perhaps you have lamp in the hallway that you keep on in the evening because it is soothing to the children, or other lamps that are more for ambiance than functionality. Start by replacing those … and seeing the savings.

Finally, invest in a new-and-improved power strip (or two). Over the last few years, we’ve learned that even when small appliances and chargers aren’t in use, they are still drawing electricity. It’s called stand-by power. In fact, some reports go so far as to say that we waste 40% of our electric bill on stand-by power. Plug groups of these small appliances or electronic items into power-strips, and then you only have to unplug one item, making it easy to save money on your electric bill.

Taking the usual actions to cut back on energy usage in your house will work to lower your bill; instituting a few of these lesser-known tips and you’ll really start seeing the savings.

Things to Consider When Repairing an Older Home

b2ap3_thumbnail_old_farmhouse_6-150x150When it comes to living in an older home, there are some conditions you can live with (for the time being) and others that must be taken care of as soon as possible. It’s nice to purchase a home with architectural character, but sometimes those same details can become expensive in the future if you don’t repair them in a timely fashion.
Among all the must-do repairs in the house, you should start on the outside. Not only is it the first impression visitors get when they see your house, but you need to protect the outer layer of your home from weather and

pests. If you have any broken shingles or holes in the roof, get those repaired immediately, as moisture and insects can cause structural damage to your home. The next task is to clean and caulk the windows, which are often in desperate need of attention. The final task outside would be to spruce up the landscaping. Weed flower beds, trim the grass and add some potted flowers around the yard for a special touch.

Inside the house, there are many little things to do. You can start with the floors. Wooden floors may need to be refinished, repaired and polished. For tile floors, check for any loose, cracked or broken tiles and repair those. Also look at the grout, and if it is deteriorating, re-grout the tiles. Carpets should be cleaned, or if worn, replaced, and you may consider replacing linoleum if it is faded, stained or torn.

When it comes to painting the walls, repair any loose plaster and nail-holes prior to painting. While working on the inside of your home, you also want to make sure that everything functions – the stove works and the faucets aren’t leaking. Other “must work” items on the short list should include all fixtures in the bathroom.

Besides the aesthetic repairs, look behind the walls for other issues that could be a real danger. Electricity can be a real problem, especially if it was installed more than 50 years ago. There have been many code changes and technological advances since then to make electrical wiring and outlets safer and less of a fire hazard. If you are unsure, hire a professional to inspect the wiring in your home.

Other issues commonly found in older homes are asbestos, bacteria and mold (caused by high humidity), lead pipes and cracking foundation. Again, whether buying or selling, these are items that should be addressed immediately.

Although you may feel that repairing an older home is more of an expense than what it is worth, that is usually not the case. Once the home is functioning and safe, your family will enjoy the architectural styling, texture and details not found in newer homes.

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